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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Week 17: Sowing the seeds for a bountiful 2014 harvest

View of oats and peas in Field 1
We're finally officially well into fall, and it's starting to actually feel like that in our daily harvest. Tomato, pepper and eggplant production continue to slow down with the shorter days, though for now it still seems to be plenty to fill the CSA share needs. Root crops like potatoes, sweet potatoes (which will go into the greenhouse to cure), carrots and beets now dominate our daily harvest routine. Many of the crops we'll be seeing in the shareroom now and in the coming weeks were harvested in late August and September and have spent some time curing in our barn or greenhouse. This helps to cut back a little on the amount of time the harvest takes up in our days, freeing up the crew to work on projects that will help us out for next season, in particular working towards seeding cover crops in as many fields as possible.

Cover crops are an important way for us to maintain soil fertility and organic matter, but it can take several weeks to get ready to seed them. First, you need to mow in the crop that has finished producing. The next step is to go over the area with our disk harrow to break up debris. It usually takes several tractor passes over the course of 2 or 3 weeks to break most crop debris down enough, but some crops that are in the ground for shorter periods of time, like greens, go a little quicker. It gets more complicated, though, when the crop in question has been grown under black plastic mulch using drip tape irrigation. We have to pull the drip tape out of the ground by hand before we can seed a cover crop. Fortunately, we now use a corn-based black "plastic" mulch, so we don't have to pull that out of the ground as well, as it biodegrades over time just like our crop residue does.

In addition, in our watermelon, sweet potatoes and first cucumbers and summer squash we lay down black landscape fabric in the pathways to keep down weeds. The landscape fabric is not biodegradable, and it must get pulled out of the ground to be reused the next season. Pulling up landscape fabric is one of the crew's least favorite tasks! The fabric is held into the ground by metal staples, and the clever weeds manage to pop up through the tiny holes created by those staples. By the fall, these weeds are quite vigorous and do an even better job than the staples of holding down the landscape fabric, making the act of pulling up fabric extra challenging. After the landscape fabric and drip tape are pulled out of the field, we can begin working in the remaining plant residue and biodegradable "plastic" mulch.

Once the crop debris have been worked into the soil, we can seed our cover crop of choice. Whenever possible, we try to include a legume in our cover crop seeding (examples of legumes include peas, hairy vetch and clover). Legumes are important because they help fix nitrogen in the soil, providing an important nutrient for next year's crops. Up until about mid-September, we mix oats and field peas together. We really like this combination because these crops can't survive the winter in our climate. They die off once it gets cold, leaving enough debris in the field to protect our soil from erosion. Because they have been slowly decomposing all winter, they are really easy to work into the soil the next spring when we begin plowing. After mid-September, though, it's too cold for oats and peas, so we shift to hardier cover crops. Traditionally, we've just seeded winter rye after September 15th. While this is not a legume and therefore does not fix nitrogen in the soil, it does help prevent erosion over the winter, and if it's tilled in at the right moment in the spring it can provide organic matter to the soil. This year we've added Austrian Winter Peas to the cover crop mix. These are a slightly hardier legume, and like the rye, they should pop back up in the warmer spring weather. Hopefully they'll help improve our soil quality by fixing nitrogen as well.

This week in the share we're introducing a new potato variety to the CSA: Peter Wilcox. It's got a purple skin and white flesh, so it will add some unique coloring to your meals. We only planted a few beds of these this year to try it out, so let us know what you think of the variety and if we should plant more next year!

What's in the share: Lettuce, Greens, Kale, Escarole, Celery, Carrots, Beets, Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes (slicing, heirloom and plum), Spaghetti Squash, Acorn Squash, Garlic, PYO Cherry Tomatoes, PYO Husk Cherries, PYO Hot Peppers, PYO Green Beans, PYO Herbs.
New this week: Yellow Storage Onions, Purple Potatoes, Green Cabbage, Hakurei Turnips, PYO Corn Stalks.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Week 16

Red and yellow onions curing
in the greenhouse
Last week was a very productive week for the crew, as we not only finally finished hauling in our yellow storage onions, but we also harvested all our red onions and began the shallot harvest as well. The red onions will need to sit in the greenhouse to finish curing for another week or two before they are fully dried out and cured, but most of our yellow onions are fully cured and ready to be cleaned off this week to prepare for distribution the following week. With the cooler mornings we've been experiencing lately, onion cleaning will be a good project to start the day off. Even with a later 7am start time these days, the morning temperatures in the past week have usually been in the upper 40s, which in combination with the morning dew leads to some numb fingers for our farmers during lettuce and greens harvest! By about 8am, most of the fields are in full sun and it has warmed up enough to make the harvest more pleasant, so whenever possible we'll spend the first hour of the morning working on onions in the warmer greenhouse.

We also made a significant dent in our winter squash harvest last week, with only the Red Kuri and Buttercup squash now remaining in the field. This week we'll begin distributing Spaghetti squash and Acorn in the share. These two types of squash have the shortest shelf life of all our winter squash, so they should be used sooner rather than later (though they can still keep for up to a month or two under ideal storage conditions). If you do want to save them for later use, keep them in a dry, dark  and cool (between 50 and 55 degrees) place.

This week we'll take a break from the potatoes and leeks in the share while we attempt to finish off the harvest of our winter squash and shallots, as well as begin harvesting popcorn and sweet potatoes for curing in the greenhouse. Potatoes will be back in the share the following week, but we'll probably hold off on leeks until a little later in the season when we will harvest the storage varieties.

Thanksgiving share forms are available again this week in the shareroom. Be sure to pick one up!

What's in the share: Lettuce, Greens, Escarole, Carrots, Cauliflower, Broccoli (maybe), Fennel, Eggplant, Peppers, Slicing Tomatoes, Heirloom Tomatoes, Plum Tomatoes, Garlic, PYO Cherry Tomatoes, PYO Husk Cherries, PYO Hot Peppers, PYO Green Beans, PYO Flowers, PYO Herbs.
New this week: Spaghetti Squash, Acorn Squash, Kale, Spinach, Scallions, Celery.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Week 15: Time to start thinking about Thanksgiving Shares

This week we'll be enjoying more fall crops, but we should also still have some of our summer favorites, like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. This will be the last week for early leeks, but the storage leeks will be available in the share later this fall. After a week off between the summer and fall plantings, carrots are also making a return to the share this week. For the rest of the season, we'll be enjoying Bolero carrots, which are a sweet storage variety. Fennel will also be back in the share after a summer hiatus (the heat makes the fennel flower before producing sizable bulbs, so it is better suited to cooler spring and fall weather). Last Wednesday, we also had a pleasant surprise when we peeked into the fall brassica field: giant cauliflower and beautiful fall broccoli heads beginning to form. Friday afternoon, we harvested about 500 pounds of cauliflower for distribution this week. Since we'll have such a nice variety of veggies this week (and the fall brassicas came on earlier than usual for us), we'll postpone beginning winter squash and onion distribution for one more week. This is because the squash and onions will keep well in storage, but the broccoli and cauliflower won't hold as well out in the field. Also, we want to make sure to spread the veggie wealth evenly between the remaining weeks! Don't worry, though - by the end of September you can expect to see kale, cabbage, onions, delicata, sugar dumpling and spaghetti squash in your shares.

All this talk of fall veggies reminds me that Thanksgiving Share forms will be available in the shareroom starting this week. If you just can't get enough of fall crops, you have the option of purchasing an additional Thanksgiving vegetable share (as well as pre-ordering organic cranberries, Appleton Farms cheeses, and pies). The Thanksgiving Share is a one-time distribution on the Monday before Thanksgiving. We will likely have about 100 vegetable shares available this year, and shares are first-come first-served. There is no limit on the amount of cranberries or pies we can sell, but we do need to place those orders by the end of October, so get your order form and check in as soon as possible to ensure that you don't miss out!

Vegetable shares cost $80, weigh about 40 lbs and will likely include many of the following: carrots, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, garlic, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, celeriac, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and possibly lettuce. Our harvest varies every year, so we can't guarantee that all of these crops will be in the share. However, if we happen to be short on some of the more popular vegetables, we try to supplement with some vegetables from other local farms. When we include vegetables from other farms, we will aim to source from farms that also follow organic practices.

What's in the share: Lettuce, Greens, Chard, Escarole, Leeks, Eggplant, Peppers, Slicing Tomatoes, Plum Tomatoes, Heirloom Tomatoes, Keuka Gold Potatoes, Garlic, PYO Cherry Tomatoes, PYO Husk Cherries, PYO Green Beans, PYO Edamame, PYO Flowers, PYO Herbs.
New this week: Cauliflower, Broccoli, Fennel, Bolero Carrots.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Week 14: Slipping from summer into fall

A portion of last Friday's heirloom
tomato harvest.
As the days get shorter, the summer crops are finally starting to slow down a little. Our cucumbers and watermelon are done for the season, and summer squash and zucchini are on their way out very soon. We still have an abundance of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, but they are beginning to ripen at a slightly slower pace. Though it's sad to see summer crops slow down, it couldn't come at a better time. Our field crew has dwindled from 12 people to 7 as many of our summer helpers went back to school for the fall. Also, with the shorter days, we are now starting the harvest at 7am (if we kept going at 6am, we'd have to be harvesting with headlamps!). In spite of the season change, it still feels like we could use all those extra hands and that extra hour in the morning. This is because although there are fewer summer crops to harvest, we now need to focus part of our day on harvesting some of our fall storage crops and cleaning up field debris, mulch and drip tape so that we can put down cover crop seed.

Last week we harvested our spaghetti, delicata and sugar dumpling squash. They are stored in the barn in squash bins and will be distributed in the share in the coming weeks. This week we plan to continue harvesting winter squash like butternut, acorn and pumpkins so that they can cure in the barn before distribution. The curing process not only sweetens up butternut and pumpkins, but it also improves the long-term storability. In addition to squash, we also continue to make inroads in harvesting our yellow storage onions. We started harvesting 3 weeks ago and are still going! With tomato, eggplant, pepper and watermelon harvest consuming most of our days over the past 2 weeks, we've only occasionally been able to carve out a half hour at the end of the day to work on onion harvest. I'm hoping to be able to finish the yellow onion harvest early this week so that we can till in that area and seed some peas and oats as cover crop. After the yellow onion harvest is done, we move on to red onions and shallots. These onions will all dry out in the greenhouse for a few weeks before we clean them off and start distributing them in the share.

In addition to bringing in our onion and winter squash this week, my other major goal (aside from keeping up with the regular harvest!) is to seed as much cover crop as possible. Cover crops are an important tool for organic farmers, as they prevent erosion of topsoil and help maintain soil fertility. Ideally, we would like to seed a legume cover crop like field peas or hairy vetch, as these fix nitrogen in the soil, which is an essential plant nutrient. However, most legumes can't be seeded after mid-September because the days get too short and too cold for the crop to germinate and establish itself properly before the winter. After mid-September, we mainly seed winter rye, which is a hardier cover crop and is more beneficial than no cover crop at all (as long as you till it under at the right time next spring). Also important to accomplish this week are transplanting strawberries, weeding spinach and lettuce, and thinning turnips, rutabagas and napa cabbage.

Many of you will be excited this week to see garlic in the share. As always, we will limit the garlic to 2 heads per share every week until we run out. We save the biggest garlic heads (about 25% of the total harvest) to use as seed for next year's garlic.

What's in the share: Lettuce, Greens, Escarole, Chard, Beets, Summer Squash/Zucchini, Eggplant, Peppers, Slicing Tomatoes, Heirloom Tomatoes, Plum Tomatoes, PYO Cherry Tomatoes, PYO Husk Cherries, PYO Green Beans, PYO Flowers, PYO Hot Peppers, PYO Herbs.
New this week: Keuka Gold Potatoes, Garlic, PYO Edamame

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Week 13: Rain relief

The past two weeks it has felt a little like we were farming in the Dust Bowl, so while this weekend's rain might have put a damper on some of your Labor day weekend plans, to us farmers it's a bit of a relief. We've been rotating our irrigation set-up around our fall crops, like brassicas, spinach, carrots and beets, as well as running drip lines on our tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and sweet potatoes. I had been waiting to seed cover crop on some of our fields until there was rain in the forecast, but by the beginning of last week, we finally just seeded peas and oats on our spring brassica field and irrigated afterwards in order to ensure good germination. Peas and oats are our preferred cover crops before mid September. In addition to helping prevent soil erosion, peas help fix nitrogen in the soil for next season, and both peas and oats are killed by the cold winter temperatures, meaning less debris to work into the soil when we plow next spring.

This week we are hoping to seed more cover crops, seed some of our last greens and radishes in the field, transplant our last lettuce planting, harvest the rest of our yellow storage onions, and begin to harvest our winter squash. Both the onions and squash need to cure before we distribute them in the share, as the curing process helps ensure good flavor and longer storage life.

What's in the share: Lettuce, Greens, Escarole, Chard, Celery, Beets, Danvers Carrots, Summer Squash/Zucchini, Eggplant, Peppers, Slicing Tomatoes (red and pink), Heirloom Tomatoes, Plum Tomatoes, Potatoes, Marini's Sweet Corn, PYO Cherry and Mini Plum Tomatoes, PYO Husk Cherries, PYO Beans, PYO Flowers, PYO Herbs.
New this week: Leeks, Chioggia or Golden Beets.