Where Does Dew Come From?

By: Ron Pitt

Dew greets us many mornings on the farm, but where does all of that dew come from?

A close up of a plant

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Ah, the beauty of a summer morning on the farm. The dew glistens like crystals spawning a million tiny rainbows as you cavort through the grass (soaking your shoes, socks, and feet for the rest of the day). The freshness of life’s vigor is on full display, suspended in the medium of all life: water.

On a less romantic note, where does all of that dew come from? Most people probably know that dew is water vapor condensed from the air. It’s the same phenomenon as the condensation that forms on an object taken from a refrigerator into a warm, humid room. For water to condense out of the air, the object has to be below the dew point temperature, which is the highest temperature at which water vapor condenses and becomes liquid. Any object below the dew point temperature will accumulate condensation from the air.

Weather forecasts often report the dew point temperature, the indication being that a higher DPT means warmer, stickier, more uncomfortable conditions. Thus, dew point temperature varies with the air’s temperature and humidity. (See addendum.)

But, thou may sayest, objects like grass are not coming out of a refrigerator, so how do they get below the dew point temperature? To be colder than the air, they have to have lost heat. But since they’re IN the air, shouldn’t they be at the air temperature? How can something in the air become colder than the air? Not possible.

And yet if it’s happening, it’s possible. The way that objects on earth lose heat and become colder than the air is by radiation to outer space. At night, the dark sky absorbs infrared radiation from the earth’s surface. Objects sitting out under an open sky will radiate to the sky and become colder than the air. If the objects get cold enough to be below the dew point temperature, dew forms on them. In fact, if they get cold enough, the dew and/or the object will freeze, causing frost damage to crops even when the air is above 32F.

For objects to radiate to the sky, they have to be exposed to the sky. Thus it is that dew may form on the top of a car but possibly not on its sides and definitely not on its bottom. Objects under a tree tend not to form dew. Nights with clouds don’t produce as much dew, if any.

Radiation to the sky is an essential part of the earth’s energy balance, which takes in radiation from the sun and reflects and radiates it back to space. It is that balance that humans are disrupting. Greenhouse gases block some of the infrared radiation from earth to space, causing heat to accumulate on earth and global temperatures to rise.

So dew is more than a curiosity. It is a signifier of the delicate balance the earth maintains that supports life on earth and on the farm.

Addendum: When Does Dew Form?

Dew forms on some nights and not on others. Why?

First, think of the water content of air as the amount of water (measured in kilograms, for instance) per amount of dry air (also measured in kilograms). Dry air consists of 78% nitrogen in the form of N2; 20% oxygen, O2; and small amounts of other gases, including 0.03% carbon dioxide, CO2 (which is rising).

Second, warm air holds more moisture. At each temperature, there is a maximum water content which goes up as the air temperature increases. See the 100% rh line below.

A diagram of a temperature

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For example, when the air is at 20C (68F), the maximum water content is just under 0.015 kg/kg.

Relative humidity is the amount of water in the air relative to what it can hold at maximum. Thus we have curves for 80%, 60%, 40%, and 20% rh. 0% rh is along the horizontal axis.

Take a humid day when the temperature is 23C (73.4F) and 80% rh (blue dot). Imagine cooling that air to its dew point. Cooling the air moves the blue dot to the left, until, WHAM, it hits the maximum moisture line of 100% rh. At that point, its temperature is at the dew point, and you can see on the graph that the dew point is 20C.

When the air is high in humidity like that, it doesn’t take a lot of cooling for dew to form. But if the air is at a lower relative humidity, say 20C and 20% rh, it would take a lot more cooling to travel horizontally to the left to reach the dew point.

So the best conditions for dew to form are high humidity and an unobstructed exposure to a clear night sky.

The Land We Farm

By Ron Pitt

In 1897 the Vendituoli family began farming the land that is currently the Barrington Farm School. Early in the 20th century, the farm provided horse-drawn wagon delivery service offering produce, meat, and dairy products. When the elder Billy Vendituoli passed away in 2016, people in the community banded together to raise the money to purchase the land and keep it as farmland, thereby leading to the formation of the Barrington Farm School as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2018.

The human history of this land stretches backward in time an incredible length. While the exact usage of our plot of land is not clear, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission (p.19) writes that Barrington had “117 farms in 1870 producing hay, rye, Indian corn, oats, potatoes, barley, onions, carrots, and strawberries.” A map from the same year shows a residence owned by a J. Burke at the corner of what is now Federal Road and Middle Highway. Agriculture was the dominant enterprise going back to 1717, when the town was established, and it is likely that our land was a field or pasture for producing grain or livestock during that time.

Go back further, and what is now Barrington is part of the Sowams Heritage Area, an expansive tract of land that was taken, legally and illegally, from the Pokanoket Tribe by the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony over the period of 1620 – 1675. There are numerous plaques, memorials, and documents regarding this period. In addition to the Sowams Heritage Project, I would recommend Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick and The Name of War by Jill Lepore, a scathing account of King Philip’s War of 1675-1676 between the English settlers and Native tribes led by the Pokanoket chief sachem Metacomet, also known as Philip. On a per capita basis, this was the bloodiest war in American history, and it accelerated the horrific enslavement of Native Americans.

And before 1620? Indigenous people used highly developed agricultural methods to farm this rich and productive land for 12,000 years – going back to the last Ice Age. Consequently, it is fair to say that the land we farm has been feeding people for millennia.

It is with this in mind that we recognize our responsibility to be good stewards of the land, that the farm sits on hallowed ground, and that we are only temporary occupants. Our goal is to save this farmland for generations to come; to treat the land and the environment with utmost care; and to revere, with humility, the Indigenous Peoples who lived on and sustained this land for countless generations.

Memorial Plaque on Rumstick Road in Barrington
BFS farmers today, circa 2023

What Is Farming? What Is Gardening?

By: Ron Pitt

What differentiates a farm from a garden, or a farmer from a gardener? At a basic level, we think of farms as producing products for commercial purposes and gardens as producing products for one’s own consumption or enjoyment. But the more you think about it, the blurrier that distinction becomes.

There are subsistence farms whose sole purpose is to feed oneself or one’s family, and there are gardens whose sole purpose is commercial. So if it’s not purpose, then maybe it’s scale. But there are farms that are much smaller than large gardens, and both farms and gardens can produce anywhere from one to hundreds of different products. OK, so maybe farming is more oriented toward the bottom line, gardening is done more for one’s personal enjoyment. But that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny either. Much has been written about how farming and gardening can enrich the life of the grower, bring people closer to the natural environment, and create beauty and pride.

The high tunnel at Barrington Farm School. Janelle and Louise harvest turnips for the farm stand with Casey, our Volunteer Coordinator.

Perhaps farming is more individualistic, gardening is more communal. There are many wonderful garden clubs in this area, 24 in Rhode Island alone. We don’t have farming clubs, per se, but the farming community in this area is large and robust. Currently there are 1,243 farms in Rhode Island, an increase of 40% in the last twenty years, with many more farms in Rehoboth, Seekonk, and Swansea. And there are dozens of organizations in this region that farms tap into. Indeed, the Barrington Farm School’s mission includes the phrase “build community.”

Rosasharn Farm in Rehoboth offers a CSA and education opportunities including field trips with Nayatt Elementary and WWOOF, a program that hosts people interested in building skills in farming.

I give up. Suffice it to say that farming and gardening overlap in their characteristics, provide similar benefits, and reinforce each other’s roles in society. Here’s a shoutout to our sister organizations in Barrington – Barrington Garden Club and Hameho Garden Club – with whom we share interests and a love of nature.

Why Are So Many Farmers Artists?

When the Barrington Farm School began searching for our two new positions, Volunteer Coordinator and Farm Manager, it was surprising how many of the highly qualified applicants had an art background. In fact, one of our board members, Jessalyn Link, was a music major in college and does graphic design. What is art’s connection to farming?

Jessalyn is using a sign she created to communicate important steps in DIY composting.

I asked our Volunteer Coordinator Casey Merkle this question. Casey has a Master’s in Nature, Culture, and Sustainability Studies from RISD as well as a bachelor’s in biology, and she’s deeply involved in farming, flood mitigation, and environmental education. Farming and art, she explained, share some common characteristics.

Artists and farmers live with and seek freedom and space, unconstrained by the social and physical boundaries that come with office work. Growing food and creating art are part of the “maker culture” movement. And both farming and art can be practiced as a commercial enterprise but also as an intentional, thoughtful process that engages with how one thinks about the world. Farming and art, Casey said, involve community and a recognition that individual wellbeing is tightly bound to the wellbeing of other people, of wildlife, of nature as a whole. One of her favorite books is “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, who argues that “the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.”

From left: Bob, Jake, Casey, and Carmen working in the high tunnel. Casey asked Jake the same question and his response was, “they (artists and farmers) like to create with their hands.”

So it should have been no surprise that artists are farmers and farmers are artists, and people who are drawn to work at the Barrington Farm School understand its mission: to grow food, inspire learning, build community, and foster connection to the land.

The Vagaries of Farming

By: Ron Pitt

Across the country and the world, uncertainty and randomness in food production are rising. Farming has always been a risky proposition, but the risks are growing with climate change and the associated extreme weather events, inflation and economic uncertainty, wars, the pandemic, income and wealth inequality, and disruption in our social fabric. It is not only food production that’s affected, but also food producers. The mental health of farmers is a crisis of our time.

At the Barrington Farm School, we are fortunate to be supported by a community that values the farm’s educational mission. Our product is not only food; it is human capital, the knowledge and skills of youth and adults to engage in local, healthy food production. Still, we need income from our farm stand sales to support our mission, and therefore the factors that impact farming worldwide are felt here at the Barrington Farm School, on a small but significant scale.

Take, for example, last winter’s coldest day, Feb. 4, 2023. On that windy morning the air temperature at the farm was –9 degrees. We irrigate our crops using groundwater pumped by a well pump housed in an insulated and heated well house. The pump survived the winter of 2021-22, but that single day in February was too much, and the pump froze and cracked.

Fortunately, we had a savior – Bobby Vendituoli, who grew up working the farm when it was owned by his uncle Billy. Bobby does plumbing and construction for his livelihood, but he donates his time and expertise to the farm as a volunteer. Bobby found and installed a new pump, and we were back in business. Thank you, Bobby, and thank you to all of our donors and supporters who help us sustain our operation despite the vagaries of farming.



The passage of the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011 is the largest overhaul of food safety regulations in decades. These regulations are designed to address the numerous outbreaks of food-borne illnesses like listeria and salmonella that have been documented across the country in the last 10 to 15 years, many of which have been traced to raw produce. The Rules requires farmers to address issues related to agricultural water use, worker health and hygiene, cleaning and sanitation after harvest, soil amendments, and other topics. 

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture is responsible for implementation of the new rules and URI is working with the Division of Agriculture and the Rhode Island Department of Health to offer training workshops so farmers know what steps they must take to comply with the new regulations.  

The new rules require increased recordkeeping and require the periodic testing of the water used to irrigate crops to ensure it isn’t contaminated; the requirement that animal intrusion into fields is assessed prior to harvest; and that the application of biological soil amendments, specifically compost, must meet certain requirements. Worker training is also critical.  Farms that sell or donate their produce are finding that outlets for their produce are requiring their suppliers to follow proper food safety practices and implement food safety strategies. 

These new regulations are all about preventing food-borne illness. We want our customers to know that we have done the best we can to ensure that produce safety practices are followed at BFS. We need to remember that food safety is a shared responsibility from farm to table – from growing, harvesting, and processing to retailer and consumer. 

You will see several changes at our Farm stand that addresses these concerns. A new produce washing station has been installed, several new hand washing stations have been added in the fields. Our Compost processing procedures have been tweaked to exclude items that may contribute to biological contamination. Cleaning and sanitizing practices have been adopted to assure clean surfaces throughout the farm and several volunteers have taken the Produce Safety-Growers Training Course offered by URI.

You can help us too! Please bring your own reusable veggie tote bag to carry your farm purchases.  

Let’s all have a safe and healthy Summer! Visit BFS! 

For more information on this program, please contact Bev Migliore @ bevmigliore@gmail.com 

Good Planning Leads to Good Planting

More than 20 projects in 2021 supported learning and activities in the years ahead. There was lots of progress in the fields but the board of directors and local voices also kept busy making plans. This year, the BFS master design plan, strategic plan and Vision 2024 were finalized. See them here.

The Making of Community

With the summer a fading memory, and as the methodical takeover of night over day encroaches on our vitamin D rich bodies and minds, we take pause to reflect on the community in which we live and breathe.

While it was evident to us that the farm would enjoy success, we certainly could not have envisioned how the community would embrace the farm this summer.
Here are a few of the numbers from the season:

  1. Over 80 volunteers ranging from 2 years old to those over 80 gave an hour or more of their time to assist the farm with the chores and harvest.
  2. Well over 3,000 volunteer hours of community service at the farm recorded.
  3. Farm support via social media doubled, both on Instagram and Facebook, going from 600 followers to over 1,100 on each platform

While we are still collecting the data as to the amounts of food we sold to the community, and try to figure out how many customers came to the farm stand, we know that we:

  1. Assisted our brothers and sisters in Central Falls
  2. Donated groceries to local families in need
  3. Diverted tons of food scrap from the “waste” stream

Now is an opportune time to become a part of the farm school community, especially through volunteerism. The outdoors continues to be the place to be and the farm is enjoying many visitors, especially families, and middle schoolers.
Where is everyone else, we wonder? Come out and join us as we remediate the soil, plant garlic, prep for winter, and get ready to sow seeds in February.

The farm is here for all of us, all of you.

About Planting Garlic

It is time to plant your garlic (hard-neck garlic in this region)!

Hopefully, you’ve saved some of those delicious garlic cloves we sold at the farm stand in the middle of the summer. Now until early December is the right time to plant your garlic cloves into the garden. We usually plant out late October into November. This year, with an early fall, we plan to get these in before Halloween.

First, split your garlic bulb (head) into the individual cloves.

Then, sort your cloves by size and variety. The general rule of thumb is that the larger cloves produce larger bulbs!

Prepare your soil by enriching your planting area with a thick layer of compost (4-6 inches). You can add organic manure and/or worm castings as well. Many growers now also use seaweed as an additional source of food for the garlic. Garlic will want full sun and usually does not need to be watered.

Additionally, you will want to have a good amount of chopped leaves or straw available as a mulch. Wood chips work just as well.

Using a hand trowel, create a 4-6 inch hole (do not dig- simply move the soil to the side at once. Place one garlic clove point tip facing up into the earth. Cover with compost, topping it with 3 inches of finely chopped leaf mulch.

Repeat this with as many garlic as you have available, being sure to space each individual clove, 5 inches or more. For home gardens, some folks are known to plant their garlic around the perimeter of their beds to ward off critters and perhaps, evil spirits.

In late winter/early spring you should see the tips of the garlic breaking ground. Do not fret for they are very cold hardy. As the weather warms, they will enjoy lots of green growth into June.

June is when you will see the scapes (central stem with a curly point) shooting into the sky. This portion should be harvested to be enjoyed grilled or chopped into any dish. Cutting the scape allows the energy of the plant shift from flowering toward producing a large bulb underground.

Garlic bulbs should be harvested in early July, usually soon after the 4th. Set garlic bulbs to ‘cure’ in a dry and shady place, where they are well ventilated. Garlic is ready to eat immediately, but must be cured for 6 weeks if you want to use it for seed come the next fall.

We use 5 inch spacing, planting 8 cloves across a 50 inch bed, that is 100 ft in length. This allows us to plant approx. 2000 garlic in one bed! We hope to plant two bed for about 4000 garlic.

This year, all the garlic we plant will be from seed we saved this summer. Thanks to all the farmers who made it happen.

Find more varieties at your local farmer’s market. All organic growers will be selling garlic that is great for eating and great for seed. Inquire with them about their varieties. Popular varieties include Music, German White, Roja, and Chesnok, though there are loads more.
Here is a great resource for heirloom/heritage type garlic of all kinds, shapes, and sizes, found at Seed Savers Exchange.

Cover Crops Abound, and more on Saving Seeds

It is the the time of year when many farmers desperately wonder if they’ve, yet again, missed that window of opportunity to spread the joy of cover crop seed into the fields. 

In the last two years, we’ve utilized the benefit of spring, summer, and fall cover crop for a variety of reasons. Weed suppression is a favorite, as well as diversifying the biology of the soil.

Most importantly, we want to avoid leaving any soil exposed to the elements. Soil is a living thing as we all know, and it thrives when roots are working their way down and through it, scavenging for those beneficial minerals, and when plants are able to form a canopy, shading the soil from the sun.

In late summer into fall we purchase of cover crop.While many farmers are experimenting with mixing a whole assortment of seeds, we settle on two basic choices, rye mixed with vetch and clover, and peas and oats.

Rye, vetch, and clover are best sown in late summer prior to a long and steady (gentle) rain. These three crop plants will put on healthy growth quickly in early fall and then enter dormancy through the winter. Their make up allows them to survive cold, snowy winters. In late winter and spring, these crops will grow again, and together, will produce a fair amount of bio-mass. This can be tilled under or used as mulch when crimped. This blend works well for fields to be planted into in the summer.

The peas and oats is a favorite and go-to of many farmers. These cool loving plants grow well in the fall, and then winter kill, creating a dense layer of decomposing organic mulch on top of your beds. This is the ideal situation for the beds that will be transplanted earliest in spring. We recommend this for the backyard gardeners as a way of holding the soil, maintaining the biology of your soil, and for its ability to suppress weeds into the summer. 

Whatever method you choose, be sure to prepare your garden beds in the fall for a quick start in the spring. There are many techniques to choose from. Let us know your go-to method!

On a mid-morning this past Tuesday, we enjoyed a long overdue visit from farm friend and mentor, Patricia Bailey. Tricia is an adamant seed saver, and when she let us know of a wonderful seed saving project she’s collaborating on, we said we want in! 

Sojourning through the fields, we relished in the miracle that is the food web. For this project (more details to come down the road), the ask is to acquire a pound of any certain type of organic seed, especially those plants that are staples in the culinary world. 

We saw that the holy basil was beginning to dry its seed set. And as we sat on our haunches, we were struck by the reality of what a pound of holy basil seed would look like. We recognized we would need a lot more of the holy basil and saw that the tomato field was brimming with this wondrous herb all at its base. So we put off on the holy basil and went to a sure winner for the day.

One thing we knew we had lots of was Coriander (the seed of Cilantro). We have been saving this open-pollinated seed since the farm school’s inception, and dedicated volunteers had been collecting coriander throughout the summer. 

It was time to set the scale, and voila! Two pounds of coriander seed. Some kind of farm record for sure!

As we said our goodbyes, we planned for another meet-up. We knew that the holy basil awaited us, but what else … what else would we find out in the garden?