Know Your Farmer: Part II

Remember when I cornered Matt and made him answer some farmer questions for us (see Part 1: #knowyourfarmer {maybe better than you wanted}) and a few of you fawned over him and his farmer ways? (I guess he is pretty great 🙂 ) Well, I’m back with some more questions for him. As we start the climb to spring (and strawberries!), but before things get too hairy, I figured it was a good time to shed some more light on knowing your farmer.

Q: Now, in early February, what’s keeping you busy at the farm?
A: We’ve just gotten our greenhouse tomatoes planted in the bags–1,200 tomato plants. We’ve seeded some cabbage and early cold season crops in the greenhouse. And on days like today, we tend to have to put row covers back on that have blown off the strawberries.

Q: Can you explain about needing row covers on strawberries? When do those come off?
A: We cover them up in the winter to protect them when the temperatures will be in the low twenties or teens. It also helps speed them up and helps our season start earlier. We use the row covers for frost protecting in the spring. They come on and off in the spring as temperatures fluctuate and we’ll take them off for good when the chance of frost is gone.

Q: What’s involved in growing the greenhouse crops? 
A: The big expense in the greenhouse is heating it. That’s the main difference in growing in the field and growing in a greenhouse – you have to heat it and keep it warm. We have two natural gas heaters and also supplement some with wood heat, which means filling a wood stove a couple times a day usually.

Q: Last week I read something that said on any given day, a farmer has to be a plumber, electrician, carpenter, mechanic, biologist, agronomist… the list keeps going. Do you really have all of those skills? Be honest! 
A: I have most of those skills and if I don’t, we tend to wing it.

Q: In our last interview, you shared that you have a degree in civil engineering. Do you wish you had pursued a degree in something ag related? 
A: No, I don’t think so. I think I use the engineering principles and skills I learned on a daily basis as a farmer.

Q: Agritourism is huge right now. Does Rudd Farm have any plans to expand their agritourism sector of the business beyond you-pick strawberries and pumpkins?
A: Me personally, I’d be interested in pursuing the fall agritourism some more in the future – stuff like corn mazes, pumpkins, fall activities. But for sure no definite plans right now. Agritourism is great and fun for families but it also requires more labor and hands on deck.

Q: Recently I was looking at old pictures, and remembered that three years ago (2017) we were eating strawberries in February! A typical central NC strawberry season runs mid to late April through early June. I know everybody would just like to have strawberries for as long as possible, but are there any risks or downsides to an early strawberry season? 
A: There are really no downsides to an early strawberry season, because what ends strawberry season for us is when temperatures start to reach upper 80s. So just because we start earlier doesn’t mean we’ll end earlier.

Q: So what’s involved if strawberries are blooming while there’s still a chance of frost?
A: When the crop is that advanced that early in the year, like in February and early March, that means we have to protect the plants from frost. That could mean simply covering them with the row covers, or if it’s really cold, we have to put row covers on and turn on sprinklers over top of the row covers.

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Running sprinklers during an early-morning March frost.

Q: Sorry to sound skeptical but…that makes no sense to me. How does putting freezing cold water on already cold ground help at all?
A: The thermal reaction of water freezing on the strawberry blooms holds the temperature in the bloom at 32 degrees, and 32 degrees will not hurt the strawberry plant. But you can’t just put water on it and let it freeze and walk away — you have to keep the sprinklers running, because it’s the thermal reaction of the water freezing that keeps the bloom temperature at 32 degrees. So ‘frost protecting’ can involve monitoring bloom temperatures and overhead irrigation sprinklers on 12 cold acres of strawberries all night…which is a long night.

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Thawing out after spending the night in the strawberry fields, beating ice off of sprinkler heads to keep the water going during a mid-March freeze.

Q: And everybody’s favorite question – If you had to guess, when will the 2020 strawberry season start?
A: My normal answer is the middle of April, but with the way February seems to be shaping up, I would say first to second week of April.

As always, thanks to Matt for answering my pesky questions. 

 

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