Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Hopefully, we are not as contrary as Mary Mary who has the silver bells and cockle shells!  But, we'll leave that to you to decide if we are contrary or not.  But, I'll tell you right now that you'll likely be wrong!

With all of the introductory silliness aside, we thought we'd share a bit of a farm report.  But, instead of just giving you a list of things that are doing well or poorly, we include pictures!  And, of course, we are working to make these reports more entertaining and potentially useful to those who read it.  As always, comments and suggestions are welcomed.

Are we finally 'Right Sizing' some of our crops?
We have had years where certain crops have gone absolutely bonkers.  Perfect timing for planting, motivations to pick it all and excellent weather for the given crop all have something to do with it.  But, the other thing that often plays into it is the amount of a crop we plant. 
Painted Pony beans in bloom.
Green beans are a great example.  We feel that 750 pounds of green beans for a season is a reasonable goal.  Everyone in our CSA gets a fair amount of green beans.  We get to freeze some for ourselves and we can sell some excess at that level.  From 2009 to 2014, we picked an average of 693 pounds each season.  This includes a really awful year (2010's 181.5 lbs) and a really fabulous year (2012's 1068 lbs).

Right now, we are approaching 500 pounds for the season, which has us on target for our goal.  It won't break any records for us, but maybe that's ok.  We know about what we can harvest reasonably and we know what we can successfully move.  So, hitting a target works well.

A&C Pickling Cucumber

Another crop that we have shown the ability to grow is actually going to have much lower numbers than in recent years.  And, it isn't because we didn't have good production from the vines.  It has more to do with our not having the time to get it all picked.  When you combine this with a bit less demand and the motivation to get it all picked won't be there.

In 2012 and 2013, we harvested over 5000 cucumbers each year.  Last year was a down year and we only harvested a little over 2000 cucumbers.  And, we did a decent job of meeting demand.  As a result, we reduced our goal to 3500 cucumbers for a season and we are sitting at 2800 at this time.

We should reach our goal.  But, part of us remains disappointed in this.  We know what we CAN produce.  In fact, we harvested over 7000 marketable cucumbers in 2010.  But, sometimes it isn't always the best thing for the whole farm to maximize a particular crop. 

Some crops on our farm have been a real struggle.  There are many reasons for this, with the primary reason often being the weather combined with our farm's soil types.  But, this isn't the whole truth.  Another reason is the simple fact that it is NOT easy to scale every single vegetable crop we grow up to a proper size for our farm.  Some of the issues have to do with tools, some with techniques and some with knowledge.

We all live in a yellow submarine.....
Think about it this way.  You play the hurdy gurdy (why not?  it sounds like fun!) and you want to learn one song and play it well for a concert.  You have one week to learn it and then have a performance.  If you can play the hurdy gurdy already, this might not be so hard.  But, what if you are told that you have to learn to play TEN songs in one week for a performance?  Suddenly, it doesn't seem so easy.  This is a fairly decent analogy for what we have tried to do over the past several years.  We have learned to grow crops on a larger scale in a fairly short period of time.  But, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we weren't able to figure out all of the tools and techniques that work for every crop at our farm immediately.  And, even when you figure out the best ways to do things, there is not much you can do if a string breaks on the hurdy gurdy or the weather is contrary to growing a particular crop.

Touchstone Gold beets love the high tunnel
As you might have guess by the pictures, the two crops we are focusing on for this section are potatoes and beets.  Our heavy soil makes it difficult to grow root crops.  This is especially true if there is a need to get them in the ground earlier.  While we aren't saying we will never have problems with these crops ever again, we can say that we have more tools in our toolbox that put the odds more in our favor.

Potatoes have been difficult the prior couple of years because we could not get into the fields to prep the soil for planting.  But, the real issue was the fact that we simply didn't have the tools on hand to get the ground worked fast enough if a window presented itself for planting.  With Rosie the tractor and some assorted implements, we can now take advantage of much smaller planting windows than we ever have.  The results?  We put half of our potatoes in before May 5 and the rest in by May 15.  As a result, we have already harvested two rows of potatoes and are a quarter of the way to our goal of 1 ton of taters for the season.

Our solution for beets has been to stop growing them on our farm and let Jeff Sage grow them.  However, we really wanted to grow some specialty beets in hopes that it will meet the needs of persons who just can't stomach the red beets.  So, every year, we've made a half-hearted attempt to grow Touchstone Gold beets and Chioggia beets.  It wasn't until this year, when we worked to add the second high tunnel, that we allowed ourselves to use some high tunnel space for beets.  The result?  We were able to introduce our CSA members to golden beets!  We beat our modest goal of 100 pounds of beets for the season and we're wondering if our Fall field planting will add to that total.  Who knows?  Maybe if we challenge them?  Tell them to try to beet our previous record?

Sorry, I can't help it.  I must pun.

Continued Incremental Improvements
If you have a diversified farm, such as ours, you need to avoid the approach known as "delayed perfection" and adopt the "incremental improvement" mantra.  It doesn't mean that there is no planning or research that goes into it.  But, it does mean that you have accept that you can't do everything exactly the way you want to immediately.

Some crops that are showing better results because of incremental improvements are our peas, onions, melons and cauliflower.
These melons are 2+ weeks away form being ready.
After some early successes that we think have to do with a combination of beginner's luck and perfect weather, we think we are finally getting a handle on how we can best grow the heirloom melons we favor.  Last year was a reasonably successful season with nearly 400 melons harvested.  But, this year, we felt fairly confident that we would pass that number easily - but that's during a season where the weather has been a bit cool for their liking, so we shall see.

If we think back to how we used to grow melons, we are easily amazed by how many adjustments and changes we have made.  We used to do what every gardener has done.  Make a hill and place 3 to 7 seeds in each hill.  Water as needed, weed when you can and then harvest.  The problem with that model?  It doesn't work when you want to start growing enough to have 500 to 1000 melons for CSA and direct sales.

Then, there are the peas.  We had an awful year in 2014 because soil conditions didn't support germination, but we've had some decent production prior to that.  This year, everything came together and we blew past all prior years with over 400 pounds of peas (as opposed to the average 119 pounds from 2011 to 2014.  The final piece of the puzzle was our trellising techniques and timing.

This may be the year of the pea?
I think we have shown that onions are no longer a fluke on our farm.  We've written about this one before, so I'll just link you to a prior post!
White Wing onions
And, then there is the cauliflower.  We haven't pulled in many yet, but hey are coming.  And, they look fabulous!  This is a case where it is a matter of finding the varieties that work on our farm.  Sometimes, a vegetable type just doesn't get enough attention because our energies are focused elsewhere.  But, finally, cauliflower is getting its due and we're pretty certain that we like the triad of Amazing, Goodman and Snow Crown.  As with all things, finding the varieties is not the only thing that has changed over time, but appears to have been the last key we needed to identify to increase our reliability with this crop immensely.

Don't know what it is, but a head of cauliflower in the field is very rewarding to the farmer
And things beyond our control

Then, there are things you can't do anything about.  For example, we like to grow Listada de Gandia eggplant and Rosa Bianca eggplant.  Listada is the top photo and Rosa is below.

We acquired seed for each and started plants.  We got them in the ground and they are growing fine.  Listada looks good and is beginning to produce.  The Rosa's?  Well, their fruit look alot like Listada - even if the plant looks alot like a Rosa Bianca plant.  So, clearly there was an issue with the seed.  We will not get any Rosa Bianca's this year because of it.  But, we'll test the fruit the plants do produce to make sure they taste fine and go from there.

I saved this item for last as a reminder to myself and to everyone else that there is always more to learn and there is always a chance that mistakes will be made.  It is also a good reminder that, even if you think you did everything 'right,' things can still go wrong.  So, I may be speaking with confidence about our abilities to grow things, but I always know how easily Mother Nature can make me look very silly.  I am also painfully aware of my own short comings.

So, with that in mind - we're still doing pretty darned good and we're just planning on getting better.  If things go wrong (and they will) we will make more adjustments and do what seems best to the best of our abilities.  I don't think we can say fairer than that!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your input! We appreciate hearing what you have to say.