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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

CSA distribution will be open for Labor Day

We will be open for regular distribution hours this Monday, September 2nd from 2pm to 7pm. The Dairy Store will also be open for Labor Day, but will close at 6pm.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Week 12: Non-stop harvest

Summer bounty in the share room
Last week was one of the most abundant CSA harvests I can remember, but having such an amazing variety of summer crops right now also has a small downside. This time of year it seems like the only thing we do all day is harvest! Harvest starts at 6 am with the leafy vegetables like lettuce, greens, escarole and celery. We begin so early because it's best to harvest these vegetables before the heat of the later morning, when leafy greens are prone to wilting and are less likely to stay fresh. We usually follow greens harvest with root crops like carrots, beets and potatoes. It's best to wait to harvest crops in the cucurbit (summer squash, zucchini, cucumber, watermelon) and solanaceous (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers) families until later morning when the morning dew has had a chance to burn off (both families of crops are susceptible to diseases that are spread under wet conditions).

With cucurbits and tomatoes, we do several successions of crops over the course of the summer, and we always start with harvesting the newest planting first. The oldest plantings inevitably succumb to disease first, but they are generally still harvestable for a few weeks once diseased, albeit with reduced yields. To avoid (or at least slow) the spreading of powdery mildew to our newest summer squash planting, or of early blight to our newest tomatoes, we try not to enter the youngest plantings after we've been in the oldest ones. This also means that we don't do any trellising or weeding in newer plantings after we've harvested from the older plantings.

If we have any time left at the end of the day (which we sometimes don't, especially on Mondays, which is our biggest harvest day), we try to get to other projects like weeding and irrigating our fall crops. This past week we've been trying to use any time left at the end of the day to harvest storage onions. These onions will go in to the greenhouse to cure for a few weeks before we distribute them in the share. In another week or two, we will also start harvesting winter squash, which will also need to cure a few weeks before distribution.

Each week brings a different crop that seems to consume most of our day. Four weeks ago it was Ailsa Craig onions, which require a lot of time to clean off properly. Three weeks ago it seemed like the summer squash/zucchini harvest would never end, as we picked about 1,000 pounds every other day. The summer squash and zucchini plants have slowed down significantly, but last week watermelons and tomatoes replaced them as the most time-consuming harvests. With both crops we've now run up with some other limitations - there isn't enough space in our cooler for all the watermelon, and we don't have enough trays to hold all the tomatoes we've harvested. I suppose that's a pretty good problem to have, though! This week we should still continue to enjoy an abundance of all these crops, but soon the focus of the harvest will be shifting to more fall crops like leeks, storage potatoes, cabbage and winter squash.

What's in the share: Lettuce, Greens, Escarole, Celery, Beets, Carrots, Summer Squash/Zucchini, Cucumbers, Watermelon, Eggplant, Peppers, Red slicing tomatoes, Heirloom tomatoes, Plum Tomatoes, Potatoes, PYO Cherry tomatoes and mini plums, PYO Beans, PYO Herbs, PYO Flowers.
New this week: Orange and yellow watermelon, Danvers Carrots, PYO Husk Cherries.
Ripe PYO tomatoes

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bulk tomatoes now available

Starting Thursday, bulk red slicing tomatoes will be available for sale to CSA members during shareroom hours. If you can't fit all the tomatoes you would like in your share bag and would like to purchase large quantities of tomatoes for sauce (or you're making Caprese salad for 50 people!), see one of the CSA shopkeepers during regular pick-up hours. Extra tomatoes are also available to the public in the Dairy store, but discounted bulk prices will only be available in the CSA shareroom.

In case you were wondering, none of our tomatoes have been sprayed with any fungicides to prevent late blight. There are a number of organically approved fungicides, but we have opted not to spray at all during the past three seasons. This means that we run the risk of losing the entire crop, but we feel that the potential problems associated with spraying fungicides outweigh the potential benefits.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Farm photos

Chronicle photographer Nicole Goodhue Boyd took some really great photos of the CSA crew at work a few weeks ago. You can check out the pictures at:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Week 11: Fall crops are just around the corner

The end of this week marks the halfway point in the season and fall is already feeling just around the corner (especially after last week's beautiful September-like weather). After bringing in the harvest each day, we've been concentrating on caring for our fall crops. On Friday we started harvesting yellow storage onions. We pull these out of the ground when the green tops turn mostly brown, and then lay them out in our greenhouse to cure for a few weeks before distributing them as part of the CSA share. I'm really pleased with how the onion crop looks so far. We tried out a new yellow storage onion variety called Pontiac that has produced some of the largest onions I've seen at the farm in years.

We also focused a lot of energy last week weeding and hoeing our fall carrots and brassicas (this includes cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale). The brassicas look quite good, aside from a wide semi-circle on the edge of the cauliflower that appears to have been a groundhog's personal food stash.

We've also been eyeing the winter squash, which we'll begin harvesting in a few weeks. Winter squash harvest is one of my favorite projects of every season. After clipping the squash off the vine and piling it into rows in the field, we drive a tractor between the rows with a squash bin on the forks and toss squash into the bin.

While we these fall crops are not too far off on the horizon, we can all enjoy the wide variety of summer crops in season right now:

What's in the share: Lettuce, Greens, Escarole, Celery, Beets, Carrots, Summer Squash/Zucchini, Cucumbers, Peppers, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Watermelon, Potatoes, Marini's Sweet Corn, PYO Beans, PYO Cherry Tomatoes, PYO Flowers, PYO Herbs.
New this week: PYO Hot Peppers, Purple Haze Carrots (maybe).

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Week 10: The challenges of tomato season

Beautiful tomato beds separated by
pepper plant beds to improve
air circulation
Last week brought the welcome surprise of red slicing tomatoes in the CSA share. While we knew there were a few ripe tomatoes out there last week, we were pleased (and relieved!) that our first harvest brought in enough tomatoes to begin offering them to our 550 shareholders. Because it was the first week of harvest, the tomatoes had to be very limited in order to ensure that there were enough available for every share over the course of the week, but we anticipate that as long as plants remain healthy, production will steadily pick up over the coming weeks.

Tomatoes are one of the most exciting and stressful crops for us to grow at Appleton. They're exciting because fresh local tomatoes are delicious and they herald the height of the summer vegetable harvest. They're also stressful because it can seem like the success of the season hinges on the success of our finicky and demanding tomato plants. I say that tomatoes are demanding and finicky because they are labor-intensive and because every year we worry that after all our careful efforts trellising, weeding and irrigating, late blight could swoop in and wipe out the entire crop before we get to enjoy the literal fruits of our labor. That doesn't stop us from making the effort, but I never feel like I can truly breath a sigh of relief until we've made it into September with a few weeks of tomato harvest under our belts.

This year we made a few changes in our tomato crop plan to try to ensure a successful crop. We're growing more late blight-resistant varieties out in the field and a couple of new and exciting cherry tomato varieties in the Pick-your-own. The major change that many veteran shareholders will notice is that we have shifted the bulk of our heirloom and paste tomatoes out of the PYO fields and into the regular fields where the crew harvests for shareroom distribution. After some careful evaluation of our crop plans over the past few years, we came to the conclusion that this plan would lead to a more efficient allocation of the crew's labor and hopefully a more consistent harvest of heirloom and paste tomatoes.

PYO tomatoes
There are a couple of reasons why I believe we'll be able to do a better job of growing tomatoes this way. While PYO tomatoes are a fun and important part of the Appleton CSA experience, it's a simple fact that plants that get picked by hundreds of people 5 days a week don't remain as healthy or last as long as those picked 3 days a week by a crew of 5-7 experienced farmers and apprentices. Pick-your-own tomatoes also don't get picked as systematically and evenly as they do in the regular fields (many of you have probably noticed how the beginning of PYO crop beds often get picked over quickly, while the ends of beds often have an abundance of ripe or over-ripe crops that sometimes go to waste). As a result of moving heirloom and paste tomatoes out of the PYO fields, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to increase the yields and the picking life of those particular plants, and therefore we'll need to grow fewer tomato plants overall on the farm. By decreasing the amount of tomato plants we grow, we're able to better care for the ones we have (both in the field and in the PYO garden), hopefully leading to happy plants and a better picking experience for shareholders in the pick-your-own fields.

So far, I'm really pleased with how this plan has worked out. I think that both the field tomatoes and PYO tomatoes look beautiful - they are better weeded and trellised this year than they have been in the past couple of years, and as a result, the plants look healthier. With fewer tomato beds to worry about, the crew has also had more time to care for other important crops like peppers and eggplant. As with every crop in farming, there's no guarantee that your most thoughtfully laid-out plans will lead to better harvests (weather systems don't really care about your plans!), but I think that this plan is setting us up for a better chance at a successful tomato season.

What's in the share: Lettuce, Carrots, Ailsa Craig Onions, Kale, Escarole, Summer Squash/Zucchini, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Peppers, Red Slicing Tomatoes, PYO Beans, PYO Cherry Tomatoes*, PYO Flowers, PYO Herbs.
New this week: Watermelon, Celery, Chieftain Potatoes (red skin, white flesh).

*Late blight has been reported in neighboring Middlesex County. This disease spreads quickly on wind and rain, so during wet weather, we will close PYO tomatoes to reduce the chances of the disease spreading to Appleton. Please do not enter tomato fields when we have closed them!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wedding ring found

A wedding ring was found last fall near the CSA barn. If you are missing a ring, please email our Office Manager Maura Mastrogiovanni at with a description.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Week 9: Meet the Machines

Have your kids (or have you) been dying to get a chance to climb all over our tractors and learn about how our equipment works? Well, this Wednesday, August 7th from 4 to 7pm is your chance! Meet the Machines "Open House" is back, and the CSA's equipment, as well as the haying operation's equipment, will be out on display in the CSA parking lot. Feel free to bring a picnic to enjoy by the barn. Cold drinks will be provided.

For those of you who can't make it on Wednesday, here's an introduction to one incredibly important piece of CSA equipment:

The Kubota at rest after a long day
Kubota M6800: At 60HP, this tractor is the workhorse of the CSA. We use it to prepare our fields for planting and seeding, as well as to do some cultivation work and some harvesting.

After we've plowed in the spring using one of the haying operation's more heavy duty tractors, we use the Kubota to disk harrow our fields. This breaks up clumps of dirt and debris while also beginning to smooth and flatten out the field. If we are putting down organic fertilizer for a crop, we hook up our broadcast spreader to the Kubota to evenly spread the pelleted fertilizer around the fields. Next, we follow with our Perfecta, which incorporates any fertilizer we've put down and also makes the fields smooth enough to plant into. If we are seeding directly into the ground (which is how we seed carrots, beets, greens, chard, spinach, rutabagas, turnips, radishes, sunflowers, beans, cilantro and dill), then we hook our roto-tiller up to the Kubota to fluff up the soil and make a completely flat, debris-free seedbed. If we are transplanting seedlings from the greenhouse, we skip the roto-tiller and either hook up our plastic mulch-layer, or hook up our waterwheel transplanter to the Kubota. The plastic mulch-layer is used to lay down a thin layer of biodegrdable plastic that keeps down weeds and warms up the soil for crops (we use it for onions, tomatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes, watermelon, cukes and summer squash). The transplanter dibbles holes at the desired spacing for us to transplant into. If it's dry out, we can also fill its tanks up with water so that the transplanter drops water into each hole. The transplanter has two seats on the back so that crew members can sit on back and plant while the Kubota is pulling the transplanter down the field.

As you might imagine, all this field preparation keeps the Kubota pretty busy, but we have plenty of other tasks we use the Kubota for. The Kubota is also used for cultivating with our Lillistons and Reigi weeder. The Lillistons are set up to kill weeds in between our two-row crops. The Reigi weeder is a fantastic device for weeding one-row crops, and it also can get some of the weeds within the row, saving us some hand-weeding and hoeing time! (Most tractor cultivation implements can only kill weeds in between crop rows, and we have to come through afterwards to pull out weeds by hand that were left within the crop row).

We also hook up our potato digger and under-cutter bar to the Kubota to aid in harvesting root crops. The potato digger cuts under potato plants and then drops the potatoes back on top of the soil. The under-cutter bar loosens up the soil beneath carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes to speed up harvest. Without either of these implements, we'd have to go through our fields with pitchforks and loosen these crops by hand.

Finally, we use the Kubota to mow around field edges and to mow in crops once we are finished harvesting them. After we've mowed in crops, we disk harrow again with the Kubota to break up debris, and then hook up our broadcast seeder to spread cover crop seed. One final pass with the disk harrow or Perfecta incorporates the seed into the soil and we then leave the field alone until next spring when we begin the cycle all over again.

As you can see, the Kubota is essential to our daily operations. We try to have it running any time it's not wet out. Someday I dream of getting another similarly sized tractor so that we can carry out two of these operations at the same time, and so that we can give our Kubota a rest occasionally!

What's in the share: Lettuce, Carrots, Ailsa Craig Onions, Scallions, Kale, Summer Squash/Zucchini, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Green Peppers, Potatoes, PYO Herbs, PYO Flowers.
New this week: Escarole, Red Slicing Tomatoes, PYO Cherry Tomatoes.
*Apologies to Monday/Tuesday folks who came in last week expecting Marini's sweet corn- there was an unexpected delay, but we will do our best to make sure you get the same number of weeks of sweet corn as Thursday/Friday folks. The wet spell we had last month has not only created challenges in our fields, but also at Marini's - hence the difficulty in predicting when corn will be available to us this year!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

CSA phone line back up and running

Our phone line and voicemail are working properly again. Apologies to anyone who had difficulty reaching us over the past week or two!