1996 Farmer to Farmer Conference
Farmers in the Spotlight Bob Basile and Karla Bock moved to their New Sharon farm just over 10 years ago and their garden soon started producing more than they could use. They started selling excess produce at a local store, then at the Waterville farmers’ market, then added the Brewer farmers’ market (where they still sell), and later were among the founders of the Sandy River Farmers’ Market in Farmington. They have a stand at their farm that is open on weekends, as well, and they sell at the Common Ground Country Fair Farmers’ Market.
Growing vegetables and seedlings and raising animals at Hoof ’n Paw Farm has become a full-time job for Bob; Karla still works away from the farm three days a week. Their produce has been certified organic for eight years. Most of their farm income comes from 2-1/2 acres of dry beans, 1/2 acre of potatoes and 3/4 to 1 acre of mixed vegetables, including the 100 pounds of garlic that they sow. “We do well early and late” in the season, said Bob. “When peoples’ gardens come in, it slacks off a little” at the farmers’ markets.
Bob and Karla also raise a “few animals” – i.e., 55 to 60 chickens from which they sell eggs but not meat (they’re vegetarians); four Percheron horses, with which Bob works the farm and from which he sells a couple of foals each year (a six-month-old registered mare went for $950 last year; a nonregistered for $750); and some goats and a few sheep.
The farmers also put up over 20 acres of hay a year, most of it from fields off their farm, and they may start harvesting their 40-acre woodlot soon. The latter had been heavily cut previously but is beginning to recover.
On one out of the 19 acres of open land at Hoof ’n Paw Farm, Bob plants spelt in October. He sold some this past year, but much of the grain shattered during combining because Bob was unable to harvest it early enough.
Garlic is planted in the fall in two-row beds that are 2-1/2 feet apart. Within the beds, the bulbs are set 6 inches apart within each row, and the two rows are 5 inches apart. The crop is mulched with second-cut hay. “I tried a round bale,” said Bob. “People said I could just roll off the hay. It didn’t work that way.”
Because of a high water table that prevents early spring work, Bob does all of his plowing and much of his manure spreading in the fall. Previously, he was spreading manure as it was produced; now he’s trying to stockpile it by putting hay under the pile, then setting a 4-inch perforated pipe every 5 feet down the length of the pile. As the pile heats, air will be drawn in through the pipes. (Bob has no tractor with which to turn the pile. He bought the pipe from the Farmers Union in Farmington and says that it’s available sleeved or unsleeved. He bought the unsleeved; the sleeved is supposed to keep the holes from clogging.) He has had a problem with the pile getting too wet, but will try to alleviate that by covering it in the spring with plastic.
Seedlings are started in March on heat mats in the first 20-foot section of a 10' x 52' greenhouse. As the season progresses, a plastic wall is moved, opening more of the greenhouse as needed. Bob and Karla plant in potting soil from Living Acres on Weeks Mills Road in New Sharon.
Bob tries to disk his fields as soon as possible in spring, then plants carrots, beets and dried flowers on raised rows made by a walk-behind hiller. He tries mulching between rows with grass clippings, then mulching up to the plants as they emerge. “I’m going to try to get first-cut hay this year; I never have enough grass clippings,” he said.
These rows are weeded initially with a backpack flame weeder a few days after they are sown. “I put a lot of insulation between myself and the tanks,” Bob explained. “These propane tanks frost up. I got frostbite the first time I used them.”
Later in the spring, vine crops are planted on black plastic and alsike clover is sown between the rows of plastic. Bob turns the disks on his hiller the opposite way from their raised row-making positions in order to bury the edges of the mulch. He mows the clover with a lawn mower. He uses this system with tomatoes and peppers, too, trying to get as many years as possible out of the plastic by plowing the edges up and lifting it in the fall.
Potatoes go in around mid-May. After he spends two days cutting seed, Bob hitches up his horse-drawn potato planter and spends five or six hours planting primarily Kennebecs, Norlands and Yukons, “what people want; people have mixed reactions to all blues and all reds.” He flames the potatoes after they come up, last year doing it three times, which “made a big difference” in reducing potato beetle populations.
Five types of dry beans go in around Memorial Day. “We had a complete failure on dry beans this year between the bean beetles and the rain,” said Bob. He used a rotenone/pyrethrum spray to try to control them. Both beans and potatoes are cultivated for weed control.
Sweet corn is planted and then flame weeded when it’s about 8 inches tall, then Bob sows sweet clover between the rows and mows the clover once during the growing season.
Garlic is harvested around the beginning of August. “We try to have three to five green leaves on the plants when they’re pulled,” said Bob. This keeps the bulbs from splitting. The bulbs are dried in the greenhouse, which is covered with shade cloth at that time. This year, Bob and Karla washed the garlic as soon as it was picked, rather than rubbing soil off of the dried bulbs. “It worked well,” said Bob, and Kevin Ernst of Beech Hill Farm said that he did the same. “It’s a painful task no matter what,” said Kevin. One Farmer to Farmer participant said that she was thinking of starting a garlic festival and “inviting all of our friends for two days to help us clean” the bulbs. Ernst added that a hatchet works well to cut the tops from garlic; others said they used scissors used by emergency medical technicians, or pruning clippers.
Potatoes are harvested two or three rows at a time with a horse-drawn digger, then are loaded onto a horse-drawn stone boat. They are stored in apple boxes, and Bob finds that one of his biggest problems on the farm is a lack of storage space for potatoes.
Dry beans are pulled by hand and then threshed in a small thresher that runs off of the PTO for the Gravely tractor. “I thresh whatever I pull that day,” said Bob. The beans are dried in screened bins in the greenhouse, then are put in 1- or 2-pound bags that have tags identifying the farm. The beans sell for $1.75 per pound for quantities up to 10 pounds and $1.45 a pound for 10 pounds or more.
Bob and Karla bag their onions and carrots in 3-pound net bags. “It’s amazing how people buy more with bags,” said Bob. He buys a 4,008-foot mesh sleeve for $57 from Volm Bag Co., Inc. (1804 Edison St., Box 400, Antigo WI 54409-0400; Tel. 715-627-4826), puts in 3 pounds of produce, then ties the ends with twist ties. The bags can hold a maximum of about 10 pounds of produce.
Vegetables that aren’t dried are picked at night and crammed into refrigerators, or Bob and Karla get up early in the morning to pick. “We do what we can,” said Bob.
“Karla does all of the marketing,” said Bob. “She gets along with people better than I do.” In addition to the markets listed above, they do some wholesale marketing. “We’re always open to more markets,” Bob added.
They find that an attractive display helps sales. “We often have to move things around in the stand. Often just placement makes a difference. Putting things in smaller containers as they sell” helps, too. “Nobody wants to buy the last things from a display.”
– Jean English