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New @ 95: Volante’s Fields: Our Soil, Our Strength

February 29, 2012

New @ 95, week 5, Volante’s Fields: Our Soil, Our Strength

Just ten miles from downtown Boston, minutes from the Pike, 128 and route 9, Volante Farms’ garden center and farmstand has

The home field hosts many of our small crops. In this section of field radishes and spinach give way to lettuces. A small crop of beans flanks either side of the photo.

provided homegrown plants, vegetables, and fruits to a steady and growing base of customers for generations. Our 30 acres of suburban fields produce bushel upon bushel of produce every season, picked fresh daily.

We farm three separate fields within Needham. Our main field, and location of our stand and greenhouse is at 292 Forest St. The Volante family has farmed this field since it was purchased from the Fletchers in 1962. It provides a foothold for most of our small crops and those that benefit from a quick trip to the farmstand.

This is an aerial shot of the main farm at 292 Forest, before last year's construction project.

Standish is our largest field, located off 135 on the site of the old Winslow’s Nursery. This is where we plant most of our larger long-term crops like tomatoes, peppers, and squashes. We grow much of our corn here as well, all surrounded by an old man-made pond used for irrigation.

We also farm acreage belonging to the Greenway family off Charles River Street. This field is the furthest away and as such we can’t keep as close an eye on it. Hence, recent pressure from deer and wild turkeys inhibit growing much more than corn there. Last spring, however, we added an acre of asparagus to this field, in an attempt to extend our season a little more spring-ward. We will start harvesting green and purple homegrown asparagus from this field in early 2013.

The Standish Fields look isolated but they are actually surrounded by the Needham and Wellesley transfer stations and many neighborhood homes.

These fields offer a variety of terrains and soil-types which allow us to move crops around to the land that will help them to grow best. The home field is rich and muddy at one end and dry and bony on the high parts and sandy around the edges. Standish is nearly rock-free and ranges from a dusty sandy clay in the center to an unworkable muck at the edges as it approaches pond side.  Greenway’s is always the driest field, and its placement among hundred-year-old pines gives it a unique microclimate. With decades of experience in these spaces we have developed a feeling for what will grow best where, and ways to rotate crops that will promote nutrient usage and retention.

Greenway's Field is nestled among some nice forested land.

While the stable of vegetables at Volante’s relied on farmstand standards like corn, tomatoes, and zucchini to get people in the door, it has expanded its array greatly over the years. Volante’s now offers a wide variety of vegetables and dozens of different varieties.

Homegrown strawberries are one of the first treats of early summer, and worth waiting for.

In the winter we go over the hits and misses of the previous year. Sometimes an expected failure is just the opposite and we decide to grow twice as much okra this year, or alternatively our parsnip crop is a huge miss because it is found by an errant tractor.  Through diversification in type and variety, we are able to ensure a solid selection for our customers. Which is why in the farmstand we not only sell corn by variety, but also tomatoes, and even green beans. On a given summer day you might find two dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes sidled up to four different green beans. We watch what you buy, compare it with how well it grows and come up with a plan for the next season.

Fresh bunched onions, very different from dry storage. Give them a shot this summer.

Last year’s results have us planning to more than double our fresh onion crop, the biggest hit of 2011. Very few things got a response like those onions last year, they even played a role in the winning entry of our customer cooking contest. We will be adding Walla Walla to our red and white onions this year as well. In addition, we are increasing crop size for kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage as well as adding more crops of spinach, Swiss chard and radishes to stretch either end of the season.

We are going to try parsnips again this year, plus garlic, salad turnips, flower sprouts, iceberg lettuce, French radishes, cilantro, cayenne peppers and even a new type of basil. This will all fill in nicely around our standard array of summer and winter squashes, lettuces, scallions, peppers, tomatoes, and countless other vegetables.View our proposed crop list here.

With each daily harvest, the crew starts the morning with corn, lettuce, and zucchini as a group and then diversifies from there. Product arrives at stand is washed and sorted. Our commitment to quality product should be clear on the stand. Excess produce will make its way to either Rosie’s Place and area food kitchens or to our own kitchen for an immediate transformation. And as for produce that is ultimately unfit for the refined palates of Needham, it finds a welcome home with the livestock at Owen’s Poultry Farm down the street where while llamas hate tomatoes, they get very excited for rotten pumpkin season.

Colorful carrots will carry us into the fall.

As we learn to stretch our season from the traditional June through October to a year-round production we expect to make some interesting discoveries. We hope to grow a little further in each direction, through the addition of greenhouse-grown cucumbers and zucchini, and more cold-tolerant greens. We are considering the use of high and low tunnels to provide frost protection and heat retention during short, cold, winter days.

Some crops even taste better after a little snow.

One of the aspects of the field that is staying the same is that every day is a new challenge. The weather will always be unexpected, deer will usually find the lettuce crop, and frost will often fall a few days too early. It will also continue to provide challenges of advancement: how to grow more with less water, how to produce more fruit on fewer plants, and how to actually pick everything that is ripe in a few precious hours of daylight.

For our part we can’t wait to meet these challenges this year. And look forward to your input on how you’d like us to bring future taste to your plates.

Next Week: Keeping it Local, our local partners

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca. permalink
    February 29, 2012 5:17 pm

    I love Volante Farms!

  2. Peter Hurwitch permalink
    March 1, 2012 9:28 am

    Great informative article – well written!
    A copy should be sent to the Needham Times and Boston Globe.
    Can’t wait until you are open.

  3. March 1, 2012 11:36 am

    Volante Farms is a gift to the Town of Needham and beyond! Can’t wait until you are open. Much continued success.

  4. March 4, 2012 4:09 pm

    Do you sell trees and bushes?

    • Dave permalink*
      March 5, 2012 7:54 am

      We carry a good selection of landscape shrubs, but not much for trees. Most of our stock will be in by mid-April. Thanks for the interest!

  5. sue permalink
    March 5, 2012 8:06 am

    Didn’t see any mention of the actual soil. What do you do to make it healthy, any compost, organic matter, green cover crops? Your produce is only as healthy as the soil it grows in.

    • Dave permalink*
      March 5, 2012 8:10 am

      Great question. We generally cover crop as much ground as possible, which last year was more than half of our acreage. Also, we are monitoring soil conditions and nutrient levels on an annual basis, often changing up our fertilizer program to accomdate changes in the soil. We do compost, albeit not as much as we need due to space constraints, at our home field.

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