Friday, July 31, 2009

The Center of the Tootsie Pop

How many picks does it take to get a CSA delivery put together?

Actually, we did have a CSA member ask a form of this very good questions recently. Essentially, they were wondering what kind of effort went into just the picking part of a CSA distribution. When we get questions like this one, we begin to realize that there are others who might also like to learn a little about it. So, we'll try to give you some thoughts on it!

Let's assume first that we have 40 CSA members for a given day's delivery. Let's also assume that they all have standard sized shares (just to keep it simple).

First we figure out what we think is likely to be ready. We usually make a mental or actual list of crops that have to be visited. Some may be skipped in the pick if there isn't enough. This often happens the day prior to the big picking. We like to get most produce picked within 24 hours of the delivery. Some items, such as storing onions, potatoes, winter squash and garlic don't need this restriction. And, other items, can handle longer periods between pick and delivery (zucchini) while others must be put in a 'cool' delivery chain and typically need to be picked same day.

A typical late July distribution for a standard share might have 1/2 lb beans, 1 head broccoli, 3 zucchini, 2 summer squash, 1 or 2 peppers, 1 head lettuce, 1 or 2 bunch chard or kale, 1 or 2 onions, maybe tomatoes, 1/4 to 1/2 lb peas, basil.

This means we need 21lbs beans, 42 heads of broccoli, 130 zucchini, 85 summer squash, 42-85 peppers, 40-42 heads lettuce, 10-15 lbs kale or chard, 42-85 onions, 11-22lbs peas and a good sized tote of basil.

The things that take the most time are beans and peas. For example, two thirty foot rows of snow peas provided 6 lbs in one picking today. It took approximately 30 person minutes to do this work. Assuming the plants have enough to pick - the 1/2 lb per person will take us up to 2 person hours to bring in.

On the other end of the spectrum. As long as the onion rows are weeded and relatively clean, 85 onions could take all of 5-8 minutes to pick.

Lettuce takes a little more time to pick - but 40 heads of lettuce can be picked in around 10 minutes if it is a 'clear cut' pick. If we have to be more selective it may take more time. It's the hydro-cooling and cleaning for those crops that take the time!

In between are crops like zucchini, cucumber and summer squash. Typically, we like to get these picked every 2 to 3 days to keep them producing. If we are pressed for time on a distribution day, we have been known to stop when we have enough for the distribution. These crops require that we move the plant around a little to find the fruit and their somewhat viney nature can make us wonder why people voluntarily play 'Twister.'

Broccoli can be cut quickly with a lettuce knife when it is full heads. Things slow down significantly when we start harvesting side shoots. These need to be hydro-cooled/soaked as well and require a little work before they make it into your shares. Swiss chard is typically clear cut, hydrocooled and then bundled. Kale requires "kinder" pruning and is hydro-cooled and bunched.

Somehow, it all gets done. Some days we are frantically running around for the last hour trying to get everything ready and into the truck.

Ok...most days we are frantically running around for the last hour tyring to get everything ready and into the truck. We'll have to find clever options when the tomatoes start peaking in mid-August!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dain Bread

Last week was what one might term as a 'difficult' week. The result is that both of us have been feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired. This happens every so often each year we've done the CSA and the vegetable farm. It's just a fact of life for us.

What's odd is that I know that it is time for me to take care of myself and do a few things to recharge when I feel DAIN BREAD (aka brain dead).

Perhaps the first clue was when I was having trouble even conversing with T without a few 'spoonerisms' or lapses into various babbling sounds that fail to communicate meaning to most intelligent beings. Since T is intelligent - she was saying things like.... "WHAT?!?" fairly often.

But, perhaps the worst part was the feeling that my brain was too tired to even concentrate on short mental tasks. For example, you would think I could count 15 heads of lettuce as I pick? Nope, had to count them three times to make sure I had enough. It's good to be thorough and careful. It's not good when you lose track as you count somewhere between 8 and 10 the first two times you try though...

Now, before you wave this off - consider this - I'm a numbers person. Love numbers. I like trying calculations in my head and then checking them to see if I got them right. It's a sickness - I know. But, there is a serious problem if I consistently get 9 times 6 coming out as 42. (Universe is 12 short - thank you Douglas Addams).

Hopefully, we are both coming out of the 'dain bread' state of being. But, until then, be prepared to say..


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Road Map to Zucchini

One of the signs of summer for me are the criss cross cuts all over my forearms, wrists and hands that come from picking summer squash, zucchini and cucumber.

For those of you who do not know - the leaves of these plants have serrated edges. In fact, the stems are also rough on some of these. And, there is really no good way to get around the fact that they are harsh enough to give you some light cuts as you work to harvest the fruit.

This may not seem like a very big deal if you are harvesting two or three hills of each of these. But, when you tend to plant things in 50 or 60 foot rows and you usually have multiples of those rows - these plants can actually do some real damage to you - especially early in the season when you aren't used to it. After the first major picking this year, my forearms felt a bit like I'd had a pretty good sunburn. But, it was a pretty cloudy day AND I had sunblock on. On the other hand, I did have ALOT of those cuts on my arms. So, that gives you an idea of how it can feel.

Obvious solutions include wearing long sleeves when picking and/or being a bit more deliberate with the picking in an effort to avoid the scratches. Option 2 is rarely feasible given the volume of things we have to pick. Option 1 is yet another matter.

Why don't I make sure to have long sleeves (and maybe even gloves) when I pick these things?

  1. How can I be a macho farmer if I protect my arms? This is a very important point and should not be ignored.
  2. I put my farmer's tan in danger if I cover up my forearms. This is also very important since my looks are my life.
  3. I am simply too busy to be bothered by such things. Or at least, I think I am. This is, again, very important because I need to feel that I am a very important, busy person.
In short, I'm not too bright sometimes.

Actually, the real reasons are a bit more practical. First, I've found that long sleeves (and even gloves) leave the most sensitive part of my forearm - the wrist - open to damage. In fact, they get beat up even more when I wear this gear. And, worse, the rubbing from both actually irritates and bothers me more. And, second, I do find that I get better at being an efficient picker that can move leaves around with fewer cuts. And, finally, I do tend to toughen up after the first few pickings.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Miscellaneous Farm Stuff

The perennial wildflower area in one of our gardens is looking very nice right now. This picture is a couple of weeks old and pre "peak" - but it is still quite nice.

Just to prove to everyone that we DID finish our roof on one of our outbuildings - here it is. I get the feeling that my work is no where near done on the rest of the building, however.

We're starting to pick tomatoes. Here is a sample of some heirloom tomatoes picked on our farm in late August last year. We're starting to see some variety in what we can pick. It adds time to the picking - but the tastes are sure worth it.

And, in case you have forgotten. This is what our cucumbers looked like last year. Picture was late August - at a point when either the plants should be sprawling EVERYWHERE or there should be evidence of very large vines having just completed the cycle. Nope. This year doesn't look great for our cucumbers - but it makes this look even more pathetic... Ah, the difference a year can make.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tom Sawyer Days

We host something we call "Tom Sawyer Days" at the farm in an effort to get our CSA members and other interested folks an opportunity to get a feel for how work on the farm goes. We've had a couple of small, but enthusiastic groups for the last couple of TSD's - so we thought we'd share some pictures we have from one of them.

Ignore the guy with the guy with the red hat who appears to be doing nothing. Instead, see if you can see the workers clearing the ragweed from the old hog building in the back! Hurray! This is just one example of the kind of task that often appears as part of a TSD. It's a task that is fairly concrete, it can usually be completed by the end of the event AND it is usually a task that we really want or need done, but know we'll never get to it unless we get some help.

Towards the front you can see rows of lettuce, radish, arugula and spinach. The foreground is weeds and some perennial flowers and grasses we put there on purpose...

Some tasks are even more concentrated - like freeing the hollyhocks from weeds so we can enjoy the flower show when it happens. Note the totally awesome pile of weeds in the foreground and the healthy looking plants that turn into.....

A very blurry group of hollyhocks. Ok. They aren't all that blurry in real life. But, there it is.

And, of course, there is always the option of taking a break. For the next TSD, come weed a row and get a free hammock break.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Day at the “Park”

Ah…taking the meat birds to the processor (also known by us as “taking them to the park” - our thanks to a good friend for giving us this phrase).

By the time we reach the week of the ‘trip’ the humans, the laying flock and even the cats are beginning to feel their welcome for the meat birds dwindling. On the other hand, raccoons, fox, hawks and other critters find them a bit more appetizing.

If you have never raised a meat bird and taken it to the processor, this may be of interest to you. If you have, you may enjoy it nonetheless.

Typically, the day before, you do not want to feed the birds. Ideally, we would like to be able to let birds out on pasture the day before, but not give them any feed. But, we often opt to leave them in for a day with just water. The job is easier for the processors if their gullets are empty. The other reason for doing this is that T & I are covered in less chicken .. uh.. stuff by the time we are done with the trip. If you dare, ask us about a certain trip with turkeys that ate WAY too well the day before. Unfortunately, circumstances made it impossible to do this - this time around. Sorry processors! Sorry clothing!

The night PRIOR to the trip, the birds are put into crates for travel. It is impossible to chase them around the pasture – so we have to wait until the birds are ready to go to sleep (right around sundown) and head back to their room in the barn. At that point, we can chase them around their room, grab them (typically by their legs) and put them in the crates. It's amazing the fuss they put up during the chasing and capturing part. One would think there were Faux's in the chicken coop....

We are usually a tad bit annoyed that chickens are so intent on running FROM us when we try to catch them. Because, for most of their life, we intend to HELP keep them from harm. Sometimes we chase them to get them back inside the fences that slow predators down. Sometimes we chase them to get them into their (relatively) safe room for the night. It just so happens that this is no longer true the day prior to going to the park. Perhaps they are simply practicing for this very instance on the other days they run around?

Since chickens tend to sleep *very* close to each other, even on hot days, they settle down quickly for sleep once they are in the crate. Besides, the humans are no longer chasing them. That’s another thing about chickens. They can have a fit about stupid things – or life threatening things – the noise and emphasis are often pretty close to the same thing. And in mere moments, they can forget that anything was wrong and go about a contented life as if nothing else had happened. This is true even if the birds immediately to their right are currently being threatened.

Once all the birds are in cages and in a safe room, they tend to sleep. Humans, on the other hand, have to calm down from the adrenaline of chasing birds. That, and they often appreciate taking a shower. It’s a *really* good idea prior to heading for bed and sleep. After all, tomorrow is an early morning. Our processor usually wants us unloading our birds around 7 am. It takes about 45 minutes to get there from our farm. And, we have to load the birds into the truck (keeping them in our crates). The birds are not fully awake and not terribly active at this point – this is a good thing - but it never lasts.

At the processor, we unload the birds from our crates and put them in holding cages (5 per cage to help with tracking). The birds are usually quite awake by now and the humans have to be quick and alert – or they’ll end up chasing a bird for 45 minutes around the trees near the processing building. (yes, that happened…once). This is also the point at which humans get covered in the most poo.

Once processed the birds need to be cooled before we can take possession of them. That takes a while, so, we drive back to the farm. Usually, we take the cages out, spray them down. And, we take the truck into a car wash to be thoroughly cleaned. This has to be done quickly for a couple of reasons. First, consider what happens if you leave messes like this untended. Second, 100 birds require enough coolers that our sedan may not suffice to pick them up. We are usually forced to take the truck again. And, we will not set our coolers in the mess that is the bottom of the truck after the first trip!

Maybe a task or two is done on the farm before we head back to pick up the birds. We get them from their cooler and place them in ours. And, of course, we pay the processor for their services. On return, we put the birds into our freezer. Then we go about the process of trying to get the birds to our customers. Possibly worthy of a blog in the future?

So far, the birds in the latest trip think the trip turned out pretty cool.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What's on the "Player" today

Someone noticed that I work in the field with headphones on sometimes. I find that I actually often have the headphones wrapped around my neck because I've forgotten to re-insert them into my ears after taking them out for a question, to check out odd noises in the poultry yards or because I was doing something that would catch the cord.

But, just like people who wear headphones while they are working out - I wear them while I am out working...

It's a silly meme that has bounced around multiple iterations of electronic personal media - but it's still fun. Put the player on shuffle and what comes out for you?

Final by Children 18:3
Dixie Storms by Lone Justice
Awake, Alone by John Austin & the Embarrassing Young
Forum by Undercover
Locust Years by Vigilantes of Love
Circle of Quiet by Over the Rhine
Songwork by Adam Again
Clouds by the Choir
Carrowkeel by Allison Brown Quartet
More Than Fine by Switchfoot
Helden by Apocalyptica

And now you know some of what I listen to... is it important? nope. But, possibly amusing.

What are your first five? Post a reply and let's see who listens to music AND is paying attention to the blog.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Errata to Erratic

Just a few sundry thoughts to put in the blog that deserve sharing.

Farm Errata #1:
The meat chickens (well, at least half of them) were supposed to take their trip to the park this week. Unfortunately, there was a scheduling snafu and they are still on the farm - wreaking havoc and causing general mayhem. We still intend to have the last laugh. Wednesday. We can hold on until Wednesday....

Erratic ID:
One of our CSA families sent their offspring to pick up the share a week or so ago. Asked to describe what was in the share for the week ,the response was something like this:
"Well, there's lettuce...and another kind of lettuce...and an odd sort of lettuce with round, red things hanging off of the leaves..."

For the uninitiated, that sort of lettuce is recognized by many as radishes....

All I can say is this - if it were my family - the rest of the members would never let this person forget!

Error Rat (ah!):
We should have known this would happen some day. We have a nest of rats in the barn that have found out that we feed grain to our birds. DB and Cubbie (the outdoor farm managers aka cats) have taken opposite opinions on this matter. DB has decided that they aren't worth the effort. Cubbie seems to enjoy the challenge and has been seen nabbing a rat or two.

Still, it can be a little alarming (hence the 'ah!' part of the label) when one runs over your foot.

I met a person at the post office a while back who asked how this CSA thing worked. I gave the standard magazine subscription analogy - which fell flat with this person. So, I tried another approach. I asked if they had ever bought a large amount of some product because it was on sale - figuring it would keep and they just use it up over time. After confirmation that they had - I suggested that a CSA share was similar - except that we (the farmer) stored the produce at our farm in the form of plants that were growing and we would then mete it out as it was ready.

Response? "That's a bit too radical for me..."

It must be the long hair.

Farm Errata #2:
We have gotten our wake up call in the form of a wider range of produce to pick for CSA distributions. Thursday's shares had beets, summer squash, zucchini, beans, peas, kohlrabi, basil, cilantro, some peppers, some tomatoes, radish (lettuce with red or pink round things on the ends), kale and (of course) lettuce.

The upshot is this - we are now picking things that take a long time to pick (beans and peas). We are also picking things that must be picked frequently to keep them producing (summer squash for example). And, we are now increasing our cleaning and packing complexity. Guess we're going to have to stop doing anything other than picking and packing on Tues/Thus and we're going to have to start pulling in workers to help with these tasks.

It's a good problem to have - just requires an adjustment or two for the season changes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Under the Radar

There are numerous tasks on the farm that we do regularly, but we don't give them enough thought to remember to put them into our mental 'time eaters' list. We all know tasks like this. Doing dishes - for example - is a thing in many households that takes a small chunk of time, it isn't particularly onerous and it isn't usually a big enough deal to take note of it....except that it needs to be done over and over and...

  1. Cleaning coolers and containers after a CSA distribution. If we asked people in the CSA (or elsewhere) to try to think of tasks their local veg farmer might have to do, I bet this one would not be mentioned once. And yet, every one of those containers and flats have to be rinsed out (at the least) and given a chance to dry. Then they need to be put away, only to be taken out again in a day or two. It would be one thing if it was a couple of containers. But, we are usually looking at 10 coolers, 20-40 flats and 10-20 tubs. It's not horrible - but it shouldn't be ignored when allocating time!
  2. Washing towels. This is particularly important when we are in 'greens' season. And, since we're trying to extend the lettuce season for as much of the CSA distribution period as we can...ok, you get the point. We use towels as part of our hydrocooling and drying. They are also used to cover the ice packs in the bottoms of the cooler and collect the moisture. Some may also notice we use the towels to keep greens fresh during pickup times. These get enough dirt on them each time to require care.
  3. Garden data recording. Ok - we will first grant that R is a bit more interested than most in his numbers. However, it has made organic certification that much easier when we can answer questions accurately and well that are of interest to our certifiers. The better the tracking data, the more accountable we can be to you and to them. The more data we have, the better we will be at figuring out what we have to grow and when to keep everyone happy and run a (hopefully) profitable farm. But, here's the deal, if we don't do something with it EVERY DAY - it falls apart. Usually, R tries to do some work with it each evening - but is often a bit too tired at that point. But, it gets done.
  4. Personal contact tasks. I couldn't come up with anything better than that to describe the phone calls, emails, etc etc. That crop up on us every week for things that have to get done. For example, this week has us trying to figure out processing for meat chickens, a possible pork buy, a possible bison buy, a billing issue, etc In and of themselves, none of these are awful. It's just that they add up and often get missed because they aren't at the top of the list with things like 'pick for today's CSA distribution!'
  5. Poultry distractions. Yes, there are normal chores - let birds out, feed birds, give birds water, pick up eggs, herd birds back in for the night. But, every day, there are things that happen that require our attention. Raccoon in the chicken pasture, turkey in the gardens (a no-no), chicken by the house (also a no-no) - you name it - there is always something.
And perhaps I should add - do a blog entry to that list? But, since I am doing several in a row on a day after rain - maybe that one doesn't qualify?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Farm Report

The only way you're going to get blog entries is if it rains. And, when it does (like 2.1 inches in one T-storm - remember the: Except Higher Amounts...), we have a chance to write several blog entries and let them roll out each day for a while!

Some of this may be dated by the time it is read, but here you go anyway - as of July 10:

It's been a good year for lettuce thus far. Good taste, good crops. To give everyone an idea of what volume we talk about on our farm - here are the pick counts of the three top varieties through this date:
Crispmint: 499 heads - 293 lbs
Bronze Arrowhead: 282 heads - 158 lbs
Amish Deer Tongue: 87 heads - 35 lbs
Other: 67 heads
this represents about a quarter ton of lettuce so far for the season. That puts a neat twist on it.

to give you yet another perspective. It takes about 140 heads of lettuce to fulfill the 3 for large share, 2 for standard share and 1 for single share distribution on Thursdays. We can typically fit between 12 and 20 heads of lettuce per cooler. so, it is not unusual for 7 coolers to be dedicated to lettuce when we head to the pick up location.

Summer Squash and Zucchini:
Our first pick was July 9 this year. Last year it was July 15 and two years ago: July 6. 2007 was a good year - and we're looking like we're more on track for that picking curve than last years. the down side is that the germination rate of the first planting was lower than desired. The germination of the second planting is excellent, but it is 2.5 weeks behind the other planting. Planting 3 (our last) goes in as soon as the soil dries out enough to put seeds in.

Last year peppers didn't do much until September (very odd) and eggplants were the little steam engine that couldn't. This year, the plants look more like 2007 for pacing. Which puts the pick schedule around July 31 with teases starting around July 15 until then. We often call the early fruits 'scouts.'

The VERY FIRST tomato in 2008 was on August 2. It was July 23 in 2007. This year it was July 8. Hmmmmm. We had something similar occur a couple of years ago - causing us to feel as if we would be swimming in tomatoes before the month was out. But, again, these are scouts. What this does say is that we may start our peak a bit early - say about August 10 this year. It also says that our early varieties may actually fulfill their promise this season.

Here's hoping.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Graft and Corruption

The idea of grafting plants is not a new one. In fact, the only way to reliably propagate strains of apple trees is to graft them. The seed of an apple is 'divergent,' meaning that each seed will tend to stray from the qualities exhibited by the parent plants. So, saving a seed from an apple and planting it is actually more likely to give you a scrubby little tree with tiny, tart apples than it is to replicate the tree it came from.

Recently, there has been more talk about grafting tomato plants. Which got me to thinking...dangerous pastime.

First, grafting is, in a nutshell, the process of taking the rootstock of one plant and affixing the scion (stem to leaf) to the rootstock. Rootstock is typically of a plant cultivar that is not necessarily desirable for the tomato it might produce. Instead, it is desirable because of its size, disease resistance, environmental requirements and/or plant vigor. The scion is the part that is desirable for the type of fruit produced by that cultivar. The theory is that you cut the top off of the rootstock and the bottom off of the scion and 'graft' them together. If you want more detail, you may find some here.

In general, it seems that this process appeals more to hydroponic and greenhouse tomato growers. Field growers, such as ourselves, are not likely to consider this option. Nonetheless, work is being done to test out viability for this (and other) processes. While I won't argue that research in food growing shouldn't occur. I have a hard time supporting the idea of grafting tomatoes....but why? (remember, these are my opinions!)

1. It's just another symptom of how we have all forgotten how to eat IN SEASON. The biggest reason for hydroponic and greenhouse production is to produce out of season. Therefore, grafting is an extension. In fact, too many people have no clue when most vegetables ARE in season. Even worse, there are numerous people who have no clue that potato tubers grow under ground, better tasting watermelons DO have seeds and wouldn't know a tomato plant from a carrot plant if they saw them.

2. This one takes a logic progression. First, if I'm growing a diverse crop in my field (which we do), with a good rotation plan (which we do), maintain good soil health (ditto) and good companions (which we do). And, if we do a good job starting these plants and hardening them off - not babying them so much that they can't handle the transfer to the great-wide world. Then, we tend to have vigorous, productive and healthy plants. What is the appeal to grafting in that case? It's just another way to increase the inputs/costs without adding much on the output side.

3. This is another way to continue to support monoculture crop production. The amount of time and resources required for grafting alone makes it likely that there will be a focus on this one crop. Any time you build up a monoculture, you increase the natural resistance to that monoculture. This creates a not-so-nice cycle that tends to result in a grower who MUST always graft, always use certain chemicals, etc etc. The inputs required to maintain production just keep going up. And, even if harvest levels are a tad higher, the net return begins to shrink.

4. It's all in the input vs output. Think about it. Grafting requires two plants to make one. Twice as much seed cost. Twice as much cost for all of the seed starting materials. It requires time to graft the plants. It requires some sort of plastic grafting clip to hold the plants in place. It requires a good location (typically greenhouse or some such sheltered location) to get the grafts to heal over. A person could argue that the disease and other problems in a certain location is so advanced that this is necessary to allow for even a reasonable crop. But, if it has gone that far - they should consider a different crop for a while!

Ok - maybe I am getting too preachy here. But, in my opinion, we need more small farms growing a diverse set of food crops to help feed local populations. The more complex we make agricultural food production seem, the less likely it is that we'll get more people to try it. In fact, the truth is that someone with very little capital - but alot of motivation and some smarts, can start a small farm. If you want to keep working smarter and better, it will eventually require capital - but you can build it up as you go.

We need MORE people willing to extend their own seasons with their own gardens AND their own canning/freezing. We need this more than we need more greenhouse production of tomatoes for out of season eating.

I really shouldn't think so much!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bye-bye Boyes!

At last, the time we have anxiously awaited on the farm for that last 10-12 weeks. The "trip to the park!"

We do raise meat chickens and allow the birds to free-range in pasture (with no caging - just a fenced in field that they often find ways out of). They go into the barn and are locked up each night to prevent them from being a smorgasbord for other critters. And, we often call them the 'boyes' as opposed to the 'girls' (our laying flock).

Due to the numbers (200) and the nature of these critters, they can get a bit annoying by the time they reach this stage. And, even though we encourage foraging, they go through ALOT of feed - and water. So, needless to say, there comes a point where we are quite happy to count down the days until the meat birds take a special the ... er... park.

Hey, you tell them where they're actually going. Look them straight in the eye (you can only do one at a time). Then tell them, "You are going to be butchered and then eaten." It's so much easier to be evasive and suggest that there is a nice park on the other end of the drive.

Well, actually, T & I don't have any problem telling the birds where they are going. In fact, I was regaling them with tales regarding dinner a couple of nights ago. Baked chicken with green beans and snow peas. Yum. They didn't 'get' it.

It was sort of like theoretical baseball fielding. It wasn't required that they actually 'catch' the reference.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Picking and Grinning

It's officially summer when you get your first picks of green beans, summer squash and zucchini. We got all of these this past week - which makes us happy - sort of.

As with all things farm - there are pros and cons to each thing that occurs.

We love to eat green beans, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, peas etc etc. But, each of these things require a great deal of picking time. If you want to extend the harvest of each of these, you have to keep plants picked and prevent fruit from getting too large. That means we have to spend a proportionately larger percentage of our work time harvesting. In fact, if we don't spend extra time harvesting at this point (take last year as a case in point) it means we're having a difficult growing season and that is actually... *bad*.

We do all of the other stuff in the fields with the intent of harvesting and enjoying said harvest. But, when do we do all of those other things? We're also in peak weed season - which means we have to be in peak weeding form so we can continue to harvest through the year. Some fields, such as the pepper/eggplant field, are in excellent shape. Other fields, such as melon and brassica/onion fields are in horrible shape. We keep working diligently, but it seems like each thing, no matter how successful we feel we are, take longer than it needs to in order to allow all the other things to reach completion.

Such is life on the farm!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Variety Show

Just a little bit about lettuce today - per the request of a couple of our CSA members! Above is an example of one of the cages we use to try to exclude deer. We don't have nearly enough of these cages - so we lose some to the deer on and off as it is. In this cage is a mix of heirloom variety lettuce that we grew in 2008.

Grandpa Admires

One of R's favorites to grow, harvest and eat. This variety is more heat tolerant than many, so it usually appears in our CSA shares in July and even August. It also grows just fine in the fall, but it tends to have much more red in it at that time and is much more compact. The taste is likely a bit sweeter then as well. Large leaves with a softer texture. Excellent for sandwiches. If it gets a little 'wilty' in the fridge after a week, revive it with a quick soak in cold water.

Gold Rush

This one is definitely a colder season lettuce. Once the daylight hours get longer and the weather gets warmer, it tends to bolt (send a main stalk and go to seed) quicker than many of our varieties. On the plus side, it is very cold tolerant and doesn't show much damage after overnight freezes. It can be overwintered if covered and is a good candidate for late fall planting for early spring emergence. Very ruffled, light green leaves. Very attractive on sandwiches or salads. Tends to have a 'firmer' texture.

Red Salad Bowl

This, and Grandpa Admires, were two of the first heirlooms with which we had early success. We are convinced that Red Salad Bowl is at its absolute best in the fall - though early spring crops are also good. This variety has survived winters under cover and was picked as late as Thanksgiving last year when it was given just a little row cover help. Frilly, deeply notched leaves that make a nice aesthetic companion with Gold Rush in a salad.

Crispmint Romaine

Crispmint is our early/late romaine. It probably could grow well enough in the summer if we needed it, but we have other romaines that handle the warmth better. These produce big (1/2 to 1 lb) heads that are very crisp. CSA members have given a big 'thumbs up' on taste for this variety for two years running. T claims that the leaves get sweeter the closer to the center you get - and like most romaines, that can be ALOT of leaves. A reliable crop, enjoyable pick, impressive to put on the market/CSA table.

Bronze Arrowhead

Like most lettuces, Bronze Arrowhead would do well in the cooler months (in fact, we picked many nice heads in late October last year). However, it does tend to handle warmer weather well and it holds in the field (which means you don't have to pick them all at once or they go to seed). That makes this variety one of our early summer (last June/early July, late August/early September) lettuce crops. Nice looseleaf that has varying degrees of red/bronze coloration dependent on the weather during its growth.

Australian Yellow Leaf

This is one of our summer lettuces that is very slow to bolt and produces very impressive heads* with very large leaves. Soft leaves, generally mild flavor. This, and Grandpa Admires are two lettuces that are fun to grow. They are beautiful to look at, can get some good size (so make sure you transplant with a little extra space - or thin), and if you put transplants in rather than direct seeding, you can get very nice reliable crops.

* note: when we refer to 'heads' of lettuce, we are referring to ONE plant. We are not claiming that the variety is a head lettuce. Most of our varieties are looseleaf, butterhead or romaine - do not confuse with the heads of lettuce that are in the iceberg family.

Amish Deer Tongue

This lettuce is a little harder to describe because it is very different than the rest. The leaves have a spinach like texture - and that texture suggests spinach enough that some people might detect a hint of spinach taste. But, we're not sure if that's inferred or actual. Plants are compact and tough. We're hoping to hear from more people this week how they like this cultivar. So far, it gets enough positives to include it - knowing that everyone has slightly different tastes. The lower leaves have a tendency to get beat up on the stalk, so they are hard to make look attractive on a market table unless you find a way to protect them. But, they always seem to grow through rough periods. Note: don't plant too close or you'll get tall/thin plants that aren't as full as they can or should be.

Rouge d'Hiver

This romaine type lettuce was a late add in 2008 and gave us some excellent production. Our first batch is in the field now and we're anxious to see how it performs this year. Very attractive heads of lettuce with a distinctive romaine taste.


A beautiful spotted leaf romaine that does a great job in the summer months. We also grew Bunte Forrelenschus (a butterhead type) that was spotted leaf - but that variety is not available to us this year. They grow well during the summer - but you do have to watch to make sure they don't show signs of bolting - once they show any sign of it - they're going to go through the bolting process within 24-36 hours. Excellent all-around romaine.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Marjoram – Close cousin of Oregano – ours is called Golden Marjoram and is yellowish-green colored. Use in the same dishes as oregano – just about any dish with tomatoes, for example. Also very nice on grilled veggies. Marjoram is one of the few herbs who appreciates drying – the flavor actually strengthens when dried.

Lemon Basil – Good with chicken and crushed (place in bag or tea strainer) iced tea or lemonade. According to Seed Savers, it is popular for vinegars and seafood dishes - we can see how that should be the case. Can be dried successfully. They do have a nice lemon quality to their scent and can be quite nice just sitting in a vase on the kitchen counter.

Thai Basil – Anise-clove scent and flavor. Most commonly used in Thai or Vietnamese cooking. Stems and blossoms are purple. Very small leaves tell this apart from other basils we grow, such as Lemon Basil, Lettuce Leaf Basil and Sweet Genovese Basil.

Oregano - green, oval, pointed leaves that are slightly wavy at the edges. Sharper flavor than marjoram and darker green leaves. In July the plants have purple flowers on them (bees love them – flowers are edible). Dries well - believe it or not - in the microwave or just hanging up in a window sill for later use. Pictured below is Greek Oregano. Similar in looks to standard oregano. With marjoram, oregano is a staple for us in tomato sauces.

Tarragon – Sweet, anise flavor. Use the leaves only, not the stems. Used extensively in fish and poultry dishes. Freezes and dries well, but is best fresh. That said – it is not as strong a flavor as French Tarragon. Usually you will get stems that are 12-18 inches tall.

Thyme - There are several types of thyme, English, Creeping, etc. and each has a slightly different flavor. We grow the more common thyme varieties and the leaves can be dried or used fresh.

Images are from