By Richard de Wilde & Andrea Yoder
|Strawberry plants poking through the straw mulch.|
Before the month of April slips away, we want to fill you in on what’s been happening in our quiet valley! The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind with CSA orders coming in by the piles, more crew members joining us, the start of field work, and in the midst of it all we continue to navigate the pandemic. So here’s a little insight into our world.
In the first few days of April we uncovered a nice field of overwintered spinach, which had been under a big field cover for the winter. We also removed the cover on the garlic field and just recently, the strawberries as well. After the covers came off we had to walk the garlic and strawberry fields with pitchforks to tease and loosen the straw mulch where it was compacted in some places. This made it easier for the plants to push through. We’re happy to report that it looks like we had a very good survival rate over the winter! In fact, we’ll likely start harvesting green garlic as early as next week!
Our first actual day doing field work was April 8. With only our small winter crew, we prepared 2 acres of plastic covered raised beds to plant onions and shallots into. We like to lay the reflective silver plastic mulch about two weeks in advance of planting so opportunistic weeds that might sprout will be smothered by the plastic before we poke holes in it for the plants. Despite a bit of inexperience, they did a very nice job! The field looks great with straight beds covered tightly on the sides and on the ends. A critical detail that keeps the plastic anchored when we have high winds.
While we continued to do greenhouse plantings, accept CSA orders, and do the initial field work to prepare for the season, we also waited with uncertainty to find out if our experienced, skillful seasonal field crew would be granted visas and be allowed to travel from Mexico. Thankfully, in the evening of April 8 we got the good news that 31 healthy individuals were en route to Wisconsin! We all breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing they’d be joining us soon, for without them farming this season would have been an even bigger challenge. We were so happy to see them, although we haven’t actually seen most of their faces as they arrived with face masks and have them on nearly all the time they are at work! We have learned that you can tell a person is smiling by looking at their eyes, and we’ve also noticed the familial resemblance many of our crew members have to their uncles, nephews, etc. If you put a mask on Antonio Cervantes he can easily be mistaken for his nephew, Jose Manuel. They have the exact same eye features!
|Planting a new field of asparagus!|
While we were thrilled to greet these guys, we also knew we had to be prepared for a higher level of management in order to navigate the necessary precautions related to the pandemic. The last few weeks have been filled with new procedures and practices on the farm along with extensive training (with a professional Spanish interpreter) in an effort to maintain a safe working environment. We now have three groups of crew members that each have their own lunch area, designated bathrooms, and guidelines for which buildings on the farm they are permitted to enter. We all continue to limit our movement in the community and are doing our best to do what we can remotely, electronically and with as little contact with the outside world as possible! We actually started communications with our crew members several weeks before they ever left their homes in Mexico. We let them know what was happening in the USA and advised them to self-isolate as much as possible, practice social distancing, and do everything they could to keep themselves in good health. They did a great job and took preventative measures all along the way. They all arrived totally healthy, not even a single cold! Now our goal is to continue to be diligent about maintaining preventative practices so we can all remain in good health!
Now that our crew is back in action we’ve been making great strides in getting things done in the fields. We did the first planting of radishes, salad mix, cilantro, arugula, etc on April 18. Some of these plants were emerging, so we went ahead and did a second planting last Saturday. We need to get more direct seeded crops planted, but it takes time to prepare the fields with applications of compost, minerals, trace elements, etc. Today we're planting peas and parsnips. Before the week is finished we hope to complete plantings of beets, carrots, burdock, chard and then, shortly after, sweet corn and green beans.
|Field of freshly transplanted dandelion plants|
enclosed by a deer fence.
The greenhouses, which just 2 short weeks ago were nearing capacity, are gradually looking more empty. Onions were the first crop to go to the field and after three days of transplanting they were finally all in the ground. The transplanting crew immediately moved on to broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and cabbage followed by dandelion which is one of our major wholesale crops. The deer seem to enjoy a nice field of tender dandelion plants, so we immediately put up a fence to keep them out. Our first parsley field is planted and all 30,000 celeriac are standing up like rows of soldiers in the field. We started off this week by loading fennel plants. Despite some breakthrough rain showers in the morning, the crew was able to continue planting and when the sun came out in the afternoon they moved on to our first planting of kale and collards!
We have already started some of our warmer weather crops in the greenhouse. The pepper seedlings look beautiful. The zucchini and first planting of tomatoes pushed through the soil over the weekend and we planted watermelons earlier this week! We’ll keep these plants snug and warm in the greenhouse for a few more weeks until we make sure the threat of frost has past us.
|Nettles, Sorrel, and Chives happily growing in the field.|
In between field and greenhouse work, we continue to wash and pack vegetables. Overwintered parsnips and sunchokes along with spinach, ramps and burdock root are part of our weekly line-up. We’re in week two of ramp harvest and crossing our fingers that Mother Nature will bless us with at least two more weeks if not three! It all depends on the weather, but we must admit the weather has been more cooperative thus far than in some recent springs. The jet stream seems to have moved north, so cooler air with less moisture. Maybe this is the bright side of the pandemic? Reduced economic activity has greatly reduced pollution and carbon emissions. Maybe nature will give us an immediate reward of nice weather. We can hope!
Our CSA sign-ups are up about 20% over last year and we have a lot of new members joining us for this season! We are at about 70% capacity for the season and we are still accepting orders. Kelly, Gwen and Amy are doing their best to get orders processed and welcome packets distributed before the start of deliveries next week! We normally spread our order processing work out over several months, but with the state of the world orders have been compressed into just a few weeks! We’re doing our best to get them processed as quickly as possible, but appreciate your patience. We started sending Welcome Packets out last week and will continue to send them as we process your order. Please, Please, Please take the time to read the important information contained in these packets. The “C” in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is very important this year in order for everyone to have a positive, safe pick-up experience. We’re looking forward to the start of a new CSA season and we’re grateful for every member who has committed to join us on this journey this year!