Friday, January 24, 2020

The 2020 CSA Season is Unfolding!

By Richard & Andrea

Harvesting curly willow earlier this week
When winter sets in we always feel like we have “all this time” to tackle our projects, brainstorm, lay out plans, etc.  Here we are, approaching the end of January and believe it or not we’ll be packing our first CSA boxes of the 2020 season in less than 100 days!  We’re thankful to see the days getting longer—it’s still light outside at 5 pm when the crew is heading home!  Sign-ups are rolling in as are shipments of seeds.  This week our winter crew was in the field trimming curly willow as we take advantage of appropriate conditions to get the willow out of the field while it’s above zero degrees and the snow is not too deep.  We’ll spend the next few weeks trimming and bundling it in the greenhouse before we need to prepare that house for growing transplants.  Yes, we’ll be setting up our first greenhouse to start planting onions and celeriac next month!  It’s exciting to see another CSA season starting to unfold!

Drip tape line used to deliver nutrients to sweet potato plants.
As farmers, weather is always on our minds, so we might as well tackle this topic and get it out of the way!  There is some evidence that El Niño is finally turning to La Niña, which typically means less moisture and maybe even a bit of drought.  Since you just never know what you may get, we thought it prudent to update our irrigation permits and make sure our equipment is prepared and working well.  Whether we need irrigation as a means of delivering water to a crop or not, we use buried drip irrigation lines to deliver nutrients, microorganisms and trace minerals to our crops.  This year we are excited to expand our use of “sap analysis” to determine the specific nutrient needs of individual crops.  Sap analysis is kind of like a blood test for plants that allows us to better understand the plants’ nutritional needs at different points in growth.  Last year we saw some dramatic results when we used sap analysis to help us determine what support some of our crops needed in order to thrive.  We are planning to use sap analysis more proactively this year so we can be more aware of deficiencies and do what we can to correct them before they become a big problem.

As for crop planning, we’re laying out the plan and getting all the parts and pieces in place.  Sweet potato plants have been ordered, all 18,000!  We’ll be growing our two favorite orange varieties, Burgundy and Covington, and are also going to try a new variety called Bayou Belle.  We had better luck growing the white-fleshed Japanese sweet potatoes last year, so we’re going to expand that part of the planting a little bit.

Diana radishes, freshly washed!
We continue to appreciate the color and nutrition we get from our line-up of purple vegetables.  The color purple represents anthocyanins, plant compounds that play an important role in our physical health.  We’ll be doing one planting of the beautiful Amethyst beans and are considering growing the sweet and tasty purple tomatillos again this year.  Last year we also tried Diana radishes for the first time.  This is a spring radish that is shaped like a traditional red radish, but it has purple on the top and white on the root end.  We received positive feedback about this variety and we liked the way it looked in the field with regards to disease resistance, etc.  We have secured seed for our new favorite purple cauliflower, Purple Moon, and have our fingers crossed that we’ll get the Purple Majesty potato seed we have on order.  Lastly, we have to try a new bright magenta napa cabbage named “Scarrossa.”  We don’t typically grow napa in the fall, but that’s the recommendation for this variety so watch for this around October.

Fresh baby ginger with greens
We have been reviewing the results of our end of season survey that closed the fourth of January. We asked members for their input on which specialty produce items we should grow this year.  It’s clear that ginger is high on the list along with lemongrass!  We can’t make any promises at this point, but know we are trying to get some ginger “seed”.  Our supplier has closed ordering for now, but we’re on the list for an opportunity to purchase seed when they open ordering again sometime in February.  Wish us luck!  The other crop that had a lot of support was Egyptian Spinach.  This is a unique vegetable that grows in the heat of the summer when other greens struggle.  It is packed with nutrients and you just feel really good when you eat it!  It is a little challenging to grow, but we’re willing to give it a try!

Summer 2019:  Richard sampling and selecting
French Orange melon seeds
We continue to look for a personal-sized, yellow seedless watermelon, but there just isn’t anything available.  What about the French Orange Melons?  Good question.  For those of you who know the sweet, delicious, aromatic, one-of-a-kind French Orange melon, you may remember the sad story about how the producer has decided to drop the seed.  Richard has been working on saving seed for this melon for several years now.  This is not a quick or easy process.  The original seed was a hybrid.  When we plant the seed from melons produced from the original seed, we get a variety of results.  The sizing, color and characteristics of the melon are not always a direct reflection of the original seed.  As such, it takes several years of selecting the seed from the melons that most resemble the original set of characteristics and eliminate the off-types.  We feel like we are at a pretty good place with the quality of the seed we produced in 2019 and we finally have enough volume of seed that we can put in two nice sized plantings for actual production and harvest.  Richard will continue to carefully select seed and plant a separate seed production plot each year in an effort to refine our seed stock for this variety.  Wish us luck—we’re really hoping for a much better melon season than in 2019.  One of the problems we experienced last year was fewer pollinators.  We think the cold, late spring may have caused a decreased population of pollinator creatures.  It’s easy to take these little creatures for granted, but when something affects their population and they don’t show up, the results can be very dramatic!

Our crew happily putting together our first pollinator packs in 2016.
Speaking of pollinators, we are going to be planting pollinator packs again this year!  This is a project we started back in 2016.  In 2015 we published a series of newsletter articles we entitled “The Silent Spring Series.”  If you’re interested in reading these information-packed articles, you can find them all on our blog.  Basically the series took a look at the impact the use of agro-chemicals is having on our environment, ecosystem and our bodies.  The topic is pretty heavy and as we worked our way through the series we felt like we needed to create some light at the end of this very long tunnel.  We needed something positive to move the needle back to a point of hope.  We decided to plant pollinator packs, a garden pack with 9 different plants.  We started the seeds, transplanted them into the trays and delivered them to CSA members in the spring so everyone could use them to plant pollinator gardens in their own yard, on a patio space, in a community space or anywhere else they could think of where they would flourish, grow and serve to attract and support pollinator creatures (bees, butterflies, birds, wasps, etc).  We only intended to do it once, but it was so well-received, we get requests for them every year!  So, for those of you who already have an established pollinator garden, perhaps you’d like to add a few new plants to your space.  If you are just starting out, no worries!  We’ve included some plants in the pack that are easy to establish and will bloom in the first year!  Our order is nearly finalized and here is the list of seeds we ordered for this year’s packs.  Please note, the packs only hold 9 plants, but we’re ordering more than 9 different things just in case something doesn’t germinate very well and we can’t include it in all packs.  Here’s what we’re looking forward to:

Anise Hyssop, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Wild Bergamot, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Lance-Leaf Coreopsis, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
New England Aster, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Brown-Eyed Susan, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Prairie Sage, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Lead Plant, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Little Bluestem Grass, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Blue Wild Indigo, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Leafy Prairie Clover, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Purple Coneflower, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Butterfly Weed, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery

We are looking forward to a great season and packing boxes for you and your families.  Once again we hope to strike a balance between supplying the staple items (onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli) and longtime favorites (sweet corn, tomatoes, green beans, strawberries) with some interesting and unusual selections to bring a little extra variety to your meals and challenge you, just a bit, to step out of your vegetable comfort zone and experience something new.  You never know, you just might discover a new flavor or vegetable you didn’t even know you liked!

In closing, we would like to share an excerpt from a note we received from a CSA family when they signed up for their second year with our farm.  Here’s what they shared:  “This past year was our first year getting a CSA share and it is not an understatement to say that it has changed our lives.  Thank you for doing what you do!  We love you guys!”  Thank you so much to all of you who send us notes like these.  We hope you understand how meaningful it is for us to read these and we also hope you understand that we think of you as we make our plans, select the varieties and pack your boxes each week.  Cheers to an awesome 2020 CSA season!