Thursday, May 23, 2013

Planet Boron

I left the house at 6:30 am last Friday to head out to the farm. I should always leave this early, or even earlier, but I usually don't get out until 7:30 or 8 am. It's either before rush or after, and there's always traffic, especially on the two lane highway into the Hamptons. At this time of the year the vans, dually pickups, and cars of those servicing the rich line the road from the end of Sunrise Highway to Amagansett. Tourists? Them too, but not usually at my travel hours. Traffic, now adding nearly an hour's travel to the farm, is the greatest reason I wish to move to the northern prong, somewhere between the Sound and the Bay. 

I left early so to arrive before the team from Cornell's Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center. Sandy, the vegetable (potato, particularly) specialist, and Dan, the entomologist, were coming out to see my field with hopes of aiding their diagnostics. Scott Chaskey, farm director of Quail Hill Farm, had suggested I contact Sandy about my maggot problem. Since then I had sent several photos of maggots and rot, dropped off two sets of samples, and engaged in a string of emails.

Cornell has been fantastic, providing me with services I couldn't accomplish on my own or afford. Delivered samples have been tested for possible viruses (turns up negative), maggots identified (they think seedcorn maggot), and visually inspected for fungal disorders (Botrytis observed on some).

On this visit, the field generally looked healthier. Part of the reason is that the plants are now growing rapidly, but also because the maggot problem has waned (which could just be the eye of the storm). Yet, Sandy and Dan got to see first hand the general condition of most of the plants, particularly the early Turban, Asiatic, and all of the later harvested softneck varieties. To their eyes my plants are suffering from environmental and cultural conditions that have created opportunity for pests. It is hard to disagree with this position given the state of my field. After all, I planted in soil completely unprepared for a field of garlic, organic matter is low with no compost added, pH was low and limed just before planting, so that nutrients may be locked up.

I hit my garlic book the day prior to investigate any mention of purpling leaf tips, which to my eye seemed entirely out of the ordinary. Yellow sure, but purple must indicate a deficiency. I discovered a paragraph, in a section on fertilizing, in which the author suggests that a boron deficiency has been shown in one researcher's tests to promote purple leaf tips. Oh. I pull out my soil test to see if boron is one of the micro nutrients tested. Yes it was and look at that -boron zero. Ah, some evidence! Now, how do I find boron and is it too late to apply it?

After the leaves purple they wrinkle and die, which isn't good for the health of the plant or the developing bulb. Each leaf is a sheath around the bulb, feeding and protecting it. Sandy thinks now is a fine time to apply boron as a foliar spray. She tells me it is a common deficiency in strawberries and is applied regularly. She also took leaf cuttings to send to Cornell's lab to test for nutrient deficiencies.

Meanwhile, I set about Googling boron on my phone, looking for a source of the mineral and reading the few sources of information on the stuff. Should have known the product Borax is a variant of boron that apparently can be used on plants. I see by the Internet results that the product called Solubor (also Polybor, Granubor, Fertibor) isn't readily available retail and my field pretty much needed it yesterday. I see that those products are all made by the company Borax (as in 20 Mule Team).

From their website:
Borax operates California's largest open pit mine in Boron, California - one of the richest borate deposits on the planet. While boron is present everywhere in the environment, substantial deposits of borates are relatively rare. We supply nearly half the world's demand for refined borates,  minerals essential to life and modern living.

While I am deeply concerned about the appropriate dosage of Borax per acre (apparently Boron is an herbicide in higher (and unknown) quantities), I run to town to the hardware store to pick up some cheap Borax. Nope, don't have it. I head to the grocery store, but yet again nothing. Fine, I'll have to come back to the farm to spray Boron, yet the extra time will help me find a more suitable product, one maybe with a label for agricultural purposes, although it will cost me in time and fuel.

Interlude: Scenes From The Perimeter

The grass around the field is beginning to get lush and hummocky.

The kale we so enjoyed a month ago is now blooming its head off.

The wheat field.

The leaves are just now filling out the trees.

Sorrel on the edge of the wheat field.

It had been a very long day, but I felt I hardly got any work done. I walked the rows spraying kelp and fish, I weeded some, I planted a row of onions, and I spent and hour or so with the folks from Cornell. My field was spared the cool weather weeds, prompting Cornell to comment on the swell weeding I've been doing. Hardly true, and now the warm weather weeds have sprouted, just waiting for the perfect moment to take off.

Elephant Garlic, a leek.

The Turban strains 'Tuscan' and 'Thai Purple.' 

Rocambole 'Italian Purple'

Last minute problems that aren't being taken too seriously. I knew what these were, after all -what else would they be? Colorado Potato Beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata. The irony was that the potato specialist peered at my two potato rows just this morning, just as the potatoes broke through the dry crust, and there was nothing there. By the end of the day, each crack in the earth in which a potato leaf attempted to emerge was a mini swarm of potato beetles. Out came my Japanese hoe, Nejiri Gama, sharp as a sword piercing beetles, slicing them one by one.

The sun now down, I needed to go. The deer were out, and they are abundant around these fields. They skirt the fence in herds.

A train blows by, headed west.


  1. Love this post. It starts out very reporter-ish and businesslike, and ends being soft and evocative. (Although the image of you slicing the beetles isn't exactly soft!) And I love the word hummocky.

    1. Thank you. The beetles were soft and awfully red inside. One must harden themselves to protect their interests over the interests of all life I suppose.


If I do not respond to your comment, it is only because I am having trouble doing so...