Tuesday, January 22, 2013


We asked people on Facebook and in our last post what they wanted to see us grow MORE of in 2013.
Here is what we have heard so far:
JanMarie: Broccoli
Nevin: Tomatoes, early and often
Nancy: Baby carrots
Kory: can I just cross my fingers for a good squash year? at your place and ours?
Nick: Broccoli or carrots
Rachel: Broccoli
Ryan: Asparagus
Jennie: chocolate caramel (we understand the appeal, but please don't ask us to grow it!)
Anne: carrots
Stephanie: Tromboncino squash, winter squash, peas
Jeff and Susan: Steak!  (ummmm)  and peas.
Marianne: Spinach

The prior post addresses changes we are making in 2013 in order to extend and improve our tomato harvest.  And - we thought we'd address each item brought up by you in this and future posts.

The question of broccoli

The broccoli last season was some of the best tasting we have grown.  And, like several crops, it struggled for us during the very wet seasons.  In fact, we've struggled with broccoli since the hybrid Early Dividend went away.  That broccoli had a sweet taste and really produced for us on our farm.  Sadly, 2009 was the last year that variety was available to us, so we've been searching for broccoli that likes our farm ever since.  And then, factor in supre wet 2010 followed by field issues in 2011 due to 2010 (incredible weed pressure).  It's no wonder there were some problems with production.

Good news!  Gypsy and Belstar passed the test in 2012.  Production was very good for main heads and side shoots on Gypsy were at about 75% of what we used to get from Early Dividend.  Good enough.
Bad news!  Gypsy and Belstar are both hybrids.  As such, we are at the mercy of the companies that hybridize these varieties.  We are still trying to find the right open pollinated broccoli for our needs.

How are we going to improve and increase production?

1. Simplify
We've been planting smaller groups of several varieties in a wide range of successions just to try to find the varieties and the growing period that works on our farm.  As result, we often get smaller amounts of broccoli at any given time.  By the end of the year, we can have excellent production numbers - but it can be difficult to make sure everyone in the CSA has as much as they want.

We will simplify now by growing more of these two varieties for the main production of this crop.  We can then focus a few trials on finding the open pollinated variety slot that works for us.

2. Increase Growing Area
Now that we have a much better feel for this crop than we did, we can increase the growing area.  It makes no sense to dedicate too much space to a crop that has struggled for a couple of years.  But, we feel that we have the timing, etc set up for success.  Some of our shorting season brassica crops will shift to our four year rotation in the short season crop field.  This allows us to add another 200 to 400 row feet of broccoli.  If you figure one plant per foot, you can see that we could have a nice crop available to us.

3. Easing Weed Pressure
Since we harvest side shoots, broccoli becomes a bit more of a long season crop for us.  As a result, they become a candidate for paper mulch.  At least one of our 200 foot rows will have this product in the field.

4. Pest Pressure
We like the effectiveness of intercropping for reduce pest issues in our brassicae crops (broccoli is one of those).  We will be growing culinary sage and summer thyme plants to include in rows.  We also will grow onions nearby.  We're feeling positive about modifications in our intercropping techniques.

5. Alterations in Seed Starting Medium
Our brassica plants do reasonably well, but we feel that they stall a little bit before we plant them.  As a result, we are exploring ways to feed these plants more effectively at the tail end of their life in the seedling trays.  This should help them get moving quicker after field transplant.

6. Targeting a Fall Crop
We have been tinkering with planting dates for a fall crop of broccoli and we're trying to thread the needle between starting them too early and too late.  We've missed on both sides.  That, my friends, is good news.

Goals for 2013
  • Double our production from 2013
  • Maintain a crop that continues to have outstanding taste
  • Provide 4 weeks of broccoli to the CSA minimum
  • Have additional broccoli for sales outside of the CSA
Can we do it?
 Last year, some of our other varieties produced next to nothing.  Part of this is NOT the fault of the variety.  DeCicco did fine, but it produces smaller heads - and it did so at a time when we had to make choices about our time.  We did not plant enough DeCicco to be able to offer much to our CSA members, so it was only picked once and then let go.  A rodent seemed to prefer Limba and nibbled all but a few plants down while they were very small.  Umpqua disliked the hot dry weather intensely and Calabrese didn't want to produce heads until it surprised us with a few late.  As a result, we missed them because we'd given up on that section.

Simply put, we grew 500 feet of broccoli last year.  Of that, 200 feet produced very well.  If we just grow 400 feet of our production varieties that we feel most confident in and then have 200 feet of trials, we will do quite well.

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