Thursday, October 9, 2014

October Madness…Time to Harvest!

by Farmer Richard and Farmer Andrea

Last Saturday we awoke to a chilly morning as we experienced our first frost of the season. With it came the sense of urgency we feel every fall as the reality of the changing seasons sets in. Richard made his annual fall harvest & “projects” list to outline the work that needs to be done over the next several weeks. We have a lot of crops to harvest and put into storage, fields need to be put to bed for the winter with compost, minerals and cover crops. Several crops need to be replanted for next year, equipment needs to be prepared for winter storage, the final boxes of the CSA season need to be planned AND plane tickets back to Mexico need to be booked for our seasonal field crew members who are anxiously awaiting their return to sunny, warm Mexico to spend the winter with their families. Whew!! There’s a lot to accomplish over the next several weeks! It’s an exciting time of the season with a lot of crucial tasks to complete. Here’s a little glimpse of some of the things we’ll be doing over the next several weeks.

The Asa-Lift is used to harvest root crops such as parsnips, carrots, celeriac,
turnips and winter radishes.
While we continue to do our weekly harvests of salad greens, fresh herbs, bunched greens, etc, we now add some of our major harvests to the “To-Do” list as well. All of our root crops need to be harvested and put into storage for the winter. We have several different methods for harvesting root crops. Some of them we do by hand, while others are harvested mechanically. Last year we invested in a new harvester called the Asa-Lift. This is a machine that is used to harvest root vegetables that have tops, including parsnips, carrots, celeriac, turnips and winter radishes. This requires a crew of 4 to operate, and when conditions are just right they can harvest tons of roots in a day! Celeriac is one of the more vulnerable crops that could be damaged by a hard frost, so it’s top on the list for harvest this week. Other crops including parsnips and turnips will survive a frost better, so they are further down on the priority list.

Burdock has a very deep root which adds to the
challenge of the harvest.
Burdock root is a major crop for our farm with a high value return per acre and it is an important crop that contributes to the overall sustainability of our farm. We are one of just a handful of farms in the country that produce burdock. We do not include this vegetable in CSA boxes as we realize it has a limited following, but nonetheless there are many people who rely on this crop for medicinal purposes or as part of a traditional diet (it is more commonly eaten in countries such as Japan). If you’ve ever attempted to dig burdock root out of your yard, you’ll quickly realize the roots have the potential to go very deep. We utilize two of our most powerful 4-wheel drive tractors connected by a chain with a lifter on the second tractor to cut deep into the ground and loosen the dirt so a crew of our strongest men can pull the roots out of the ground. This is a very tiring task, so they pace themselves by trading off and taking some time to rest their backs. While it’s a challenging harvest, it’s also a very rewarding one. Burdock can be stored for up to one year. It is one of the few crops we can sell year-round, which means work for our crew in the winter and winter income.

Sunchoke roots are brought to the surface where they
are picked up by hand.
Ok, what else is on the list? Sunchokes! This crop employs yet another means of harvest with a different digger that brings the roots to the surface of the ground where they are picked up by hand and put into bins. One of the important parts of this harvest is selecting nice seed pieces for next year’s crop which needs to be planted yet this fall. The same is true for horseradish. We’ll dig the horseradish and put it into the cooler, then on frosty mornings the harvest crew will sort the horseradish roots and select pieces that are best for planting next year’s crop.

Sweet potatoes on their way to the
greenhouse for curing.

While we’re in the midst of harvesting, we can’t forget about some of the other things we need to get done. By the end of this week, we hope to have our garlic field planted for next year’s crop. We’ve already saved the best bulbs of garlic from this year’s crop to be replanted. Each bulb will need to be cracked to separate the individual cloves. It will take the crew several days to crack all the garlic, plant it, cover it and then mulch the field to insulate it for the winter. It’s crucial to plant the garlic at just the right time in the fall so it can send down roots and become established before winter.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, we can’t forget to harvest the brussels sprouts and tat soi for your boxes in November! We’ll still be harvesting spinach, bok choi, and several other greens for a few weeks as well. In just one short week the sweet potatoes will be cured and we’ll spend mornings in the toasty warm greenhouse where they will be washed.

We take each day as it comes hoping for dry weather to dig roots and hoping that the hard freeze holds off until the end of the month. Our crew members are starting to count down the days until they return to their homes in Mexico where their families and children anxiously await their return. As we near the end of the month, our focus will shift to yet another season as we head into winter. Plans for next year’s crops are already underway as we keep looking forward. After a little time to rest and rejuvenate, we’ll be ready to dive into another growing season!

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