Friday, November 3, 2006
Controlled burning set for Foss gardens
The woes of the past summer's growing season led a delegation of Foss Farm community gardeners to deliver an appeal for help at the Conservation Commission's October 26 meeting. Spokeswoman Gale Constable began by thanking DPW Superintendent Gary Davis for keeping the access road passable through a very difficult year. As she described the situation, the flooding and mud were a challenge in themselves, but the resulting fungi, viruses and insects were enough to discourage many a dedicated horticulturist.
Reporting that far from remedying conditions, the late summer/early fall dry spell had only turned the soil brick-solid, and she suggested a timely burn of the area to discourage fungi and pests, followed by immediate plowing. Supporting the call for a burn, long-time gardener Ed Humm indicated that as a result of the infestation of weeds and insects "only about ten of the 120 plots look really clean today."
In the absence of their professional farm-management expert Commissioner John Lee, the members were dubious about the efficacy of a burn. Commissioner Tricia Smith said she had never heard of burning as a solution to the problem, and Chairman Roy Watson questioned whether there was enough bio fuel for a successful blaze. Constable indicated that she had talked to former Fire Chief Bob Koning, who said he had participated in several burns with farmer Mark Duffy in the past. As for a suggestion from Smith that planting a cover crop might be sufficient, Constable countered that only a burn would sterilize the soils, and Humm declared that would be the best way to get rid of the seeds from the year's healthy crop of weeds, to which Foss Farm gardener Beverly Humm added an old farmers' dictum: "One year's weed is seven years' seed." Commissioner Diane Troppoli strengthened Constable's position by confirming that the present condition of the soil in the area would warrant plowing both now and in the spring.
Smith reacted to the weight of favorable comment, saying she would not oppose the burn and subsequent plowing as a short-term plan, but she favored consulting with the USDA Extension Service to develop a long-term management plan. Then she asked, "Does anyone send soil samples to the University of Massachusetts soil lab for testing?" Constable's answer: "To my knowledge, not in at least 20 years." Viewing this as an opportunity for a productive experiment, Smith proposed getting soil samples both before and after the burn and two subsequent, seasonal plowings.
Now on board, the commission authorized Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard and Foss Farm volunteer Bob Dennison to coordinate a team that would include Fire Chief Dave Flannery, Duffy and an Extension Service consultant to devise and implement a final plan.
© 2006 The