Growing under plastic
Skip Paul and Liz Peckham have been farming for nearly 30 years. Their son, Silan has recently joined their efforts. Their farm has grown to include eight separate parcels in Little Compton, RI. Many of their sites host a variety of growing structures among the fields: stationary greenhouses, movable high tunnels, Haygrove houses or Rolling Thunder structures like those used by Elliot Coleman in Maine.
Modern European poly house manufacturers recommend houses be gutter-connected and at least 21’ high. The light bounces around like a diamond refracting inside and helps grow better crops – especially in winter’s weaker sunlight. The high ceiling improves airflow, which helps reduce bacteria and disease pressure. Paul’s Star Steel House from Milikowski Greenhouse Supply has automated roof vents and motors to roll up the sides when needed. In the dead of winter, pipes bring in small amounts of cool air rather than risking crops by opening a vent or raising a side in frosty temperatures.
Paul heats just five of the farm’s twelve houses to start spring plants. The Star Steel House has a furnace that burns used motor oil. Propane or traditional heating oil heats four other houses. For years, used oil was just about free from fishermen and truck fleets. Now there is some competition so this fuel costs the farm about $.50 per gallon (paid in CSA debit card credits).
From spring through fall, cilantro, dill and basil are planted in plug trays every five days. the first two are field-planted every two weeks. Basil is grown indoors and harvested while ‘virgin’ (sweet and young) at seven weeks, before blooming. Early harvest prevents any need for weeding. Basil crop residue is turned under after the first harvest, and a new crop planted. Indoor growing prevents the mildew that has been devastating basil crops across New England recently.
Cherry tomatoes are grown in buckets hanging in a greenhouse, tipped at an angle. With controlled watering, disease pressure and fruit split can be reduced and profits increased dramatically.
Peppers benefit from being one or two rows in from the outside of greenhouses to minimize the chances of scorching.
Unique Anchor System
Strong winds are common in Little Compton, so Paul has developed special anchors for his houses after a house was flipped and he lost everything inside in a winter storm. A rented auger drilled holes nearly 4’ deep in the ground for the 3’ by 6” concrete anchor tubes. The holes were then topped off with soil that was tamped in place. Anchors were spaced 10 feet apart and attached to the house frames with heavy chain. When a house needs to be moved, a front-end loader can pull straight up and recover the anchors.
Wishing Stone Farm used to be a three-season grower. Now the family grows 365 days a year. Farm crops and products are sold through a ‘mix and match’ debit CSA, at three RI Farmers Markets, at the home farm store and to wholesale accounts through Farm Fresh RI’s Market Mobile. Farm offerings include nearly 350 varieties of vegetables, fruits and berries, ginger, free-range eggs, pickles, pies, scones and local honey.
Taking advantage of a vacant high tunnel in late March, Paul 'Green Sprouts' or 'Chits' potatoes using a technique mastered by Scottish farmers. The potato ‘seeds’ were exposed to about 80% light in racks inside an unheated greenhouse or high tunnel. Every two to three days the racks were shaken or rolled to slowly ‘wake up’ the potatoes. Instead of long, fragile shoots like those found in a bag of potatoes stored in your cellar, this method yields short, sturdy Bull Sprouts making these potatoes “like cherry bombs ready to explode when planted,” said Paul. This year Paul will start some potatoes in mid-March and another batch in mid-April to stagger the harvest dates.
For many years, potato farmers were discouraged from watering during the blooming period to encourage large A-sized potatoes. Paul said, “Now that customers are more interested in B, C and even D sized potatoes, go ahead and water as much as you want and as the plants need.” He has been highly successful with late potato harvests and successful long-term storage.
The farm is famous for its heirloom vine-ripened, greenhouse tomatoes, peppers and eggplants available from late spring through December. This year hoop house-overwintered figs will join the market offerings. With nearly 30 lettuces, 12 heirloom tomatoes, 7 peaches, 9 eggplants and almost 300 other types of produce, Wishing Stone Farm offers exciting meal options for every customer, young and old.
Wishing Stone Farm is one of RI’s largest certified organic farms at 35 acres with 30,000 sq. ft. of greenhouses. Just a few varieties of produce are grown traditionally (and labeled as such) like cucumbers and peaches which are farmed using Biorational, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or minimal chemical treatment methods.
As an organic farmer, Paul strives to feed and build soils using composted animal manures, cover crops as green manures and micronutrient supplements as needed. Cover crops routinely protect and build field soils during winters and fallow periods every fourth year.
Other Products Available
30 bee hives pollinate peaches, plums, cucurbids and other crops. Each year over 1,500 pounds of honey are harvested using unheated, traditional techniques offering customers maximum potential health and antiallergy benefits.
The farm raises 300 pasture-fed layers each year. As the chickens mature, they enjoy surplus produce and greens producing excellent eggs with bright orange yokes. Eggs are available through the CSA and at Farmers Markets.
The farm kitchen, affectionately known as Babbette’s Feast (after the Danish film), produces salsa, pestos, pickles, dips and soups. Scones, cookies, fruit pies and bread are regularly popping from the ovens. Additional products may be available at their Farmers Markets booth including cheeses, meats, mushrooms, apples, etc.
Skip Paul regularly hosts workshops for URI Extension and NOFA/RI at his farms in Little Compton, RI. Visitors learn about high tunnel production of eggplants, peppers, melons, fig trees and ginger. Fields contained greens, onions potatoes and herbs. The main farm includes grafted greenhouse tomatoes, herbs and greens.
A similar story ran in the September, 2013 Eastern edition of Country Folks Grower.