By Andrea Yoder & Richard de Wilde
|The greenhouses are filling up!|
We’re less than seven weeks away from our first CSA delivery and this weekend will mark the official first day of spring! For those of you who have already signed up for your 2021 shares, we want to give you a huge “THANK YOU!” We are happy to report that we are 75% of the way towards our maximum capacity for this year and we are still accepting sign-ups for all types of vegetable shares at all sites right now. We do anticipate we’ll sell out earlier this year, so we encourage you to get your order in soon if you have not already signed up!
We want to update you on a few farm “happenings.” Our greenhouses are filling up quickly and our small winter crew is doing their best to keep us on schedule with plantings. This week we saw the first celeriac sprouts poke through along with head lettuce and broccoli! We also planted the savory and oregano for the beloved herb packs we’ll be delivering with your shares in May. Next week we’re scheduled to plant more head lettuce along with fennel and our first planting of kale and collards. We’ll also likely run out of space and have to move into our third and final greenhouse. Once that’s full, the only option we’ll have is to move plants to the field! We’re looking forward to welcoming more of our field crew back, hopefully the last week of March! Cross your fingers that we get some nice, mild spring weather so we can start preparing fields for planting as soon as they arrive!
|Richard's sample harvest of overwintered parsnips|
Before the four inches of heavy, wet snow we received earlier this week, it was actually starting to look like it might be an early spring! Rafael, Isidro and Moises spent a little time trimming pussy willow and curly willow hedgerows. They also pulled the cover off the garlic field and started loosening the straw mulch so the garlic sprouts can push through. Richard dug a few overwintered parsnips just to see how they looked. The ground was still a little frozen and after the snow, it’s very wet. We’re happy to report that they do look like they’ve fared well over the winter and the few we cooked up tasted like candy! Many of you are wondering about ramps, asparagus, and overwintered spinach. We haven’t seen any signs of ramps yet and it’s still too early for asparagus. Richard did sneak a peek at the overwintered spinach which is under a cover. It looks rough right now, but that’s always how it looks this time of year. There is new growth coming from the plants, so we’re hopeful for a good crop this spring!
(photo from HighMowingSeeds.com)
It’s crazy to think we could be doing our first field plantings in 2-3 weeks, but it is possible! We’ve received the majority of our seeds, but are still waiting on some backorders. Every year we trial some new vegetables, so we thought we’d give you a little glimpse at some of the things we’re trying this year. Pie-Pita is a new pumpkin with this description that caught our attention: “…A brilliant development in pie pumpkins……delicious, high Brix pie pumpkin flesh with the added bonus of hulless seeds inside.” They say you get an average of ¼ pound of seeds from each pumpkin. When I called this order in, the customer service rep taking my order got giddy with excitement and then confessed it is one of her favorite new vegetables being offered by High Mowing Seeds this year. With her endorsement, we’re excited to see it for ourselves!
(photo from OsborneSeed.com)
We also have a few new tomato varieties on the list. Our friends at Osborne Seeds had a couple new ones including Darkstar, GinFiz, MaiTai and CubaLibre. We’re looking forward to Darkstar because it has a “rich purple color with brown hues and incredible flavor……with the look of an heirloom tomato and the added bonus of Late Blight resistance.” Some years can be very challenging for growing tomatoes in our valley and leaf diseases can mark the early end of a tomato crop. We always try to select varieties that taste good and are attractive, but also have disease resistance so we can actually keep the plant alive long enough to produce good fruit! CubaLibre is a black tomato with “heirloom appeal,” but we also selected it for its “excellent disease package.” GinFiz and MaiTai are eye-catching varieties with hues of orange & yellow mixed with splashes of red….. “like a sunset!” We know you appreciate variety, so we’re hoping these varieties will add a little fun to your summer tomato salads and BLT sandwiches!
We received favorable feedback last year from our trials of purple napa cabbage, so we’re trialing a few more varieties in this class this year. The Amy melon from last year’s trials also received high marks from the members who had the chance to try this melon. Amy is a canary type melon with a bright yellow rind and creamy, sweet, smooth white flesh. We are looking forward to growing more of these so everyone can try it this year!
|Garlic sprouts poking through the mulch.|
We do value your feedback and use it to help us refine our plans, make changes, etc. We had an excellent response to our "2020 End of Season Survey" with 999 participants! Thank you for taking the time to do the survey and offer your feedback. We wanted to share a few highlights from the results. Overall, we received a very positive response with high ratings for satisfaction with the overall CSA experience as well as customer service, product quality and communications. We selected a list of 30 crops and asked for your feedback about how much you received. We try to strike a balance, yet offer variety and keep things interesting. Thus, we wanted to know how close we were to the bullseye. Of the 30 crops, 21 crops received a "Just Right" rating from 60-70% of respondents who felt they received a good amount of the item over the course of the season. We had 8 crops that received a "Just Right" rating from 70-75% of respondents. In some cases, the remainder of responses were nearly evenly split between "Not Enough" and "Too Much." When the pandemic is past and we can go back to having a Swap Box at the sites, those who feel there is too much of something can leave it for those who may want more! In the meantime, consider striking up a trade with a neighbor or friend after you take your vegetables home. There were some crops though where the remaining responses were more strongly weighted in one direction. 20-30% of respondents indicated they would like more green beans, garlic, sweet peppers, sweet corn and tomatoes along with Brussels sprouts, spinach, salad mix and kale. The takeaways from this feedback for us are that overall we're doing a pretty good job, but we have some room to tweek the quantities of some things. Some items, like sweet corn, are difficult. There's a limit to how much we can put in the box and still have room for other items!
|Broccoli sprouts just pushing through the dirt.|
We also asked you to choose your top 3 favorite selections from your CSA Box in 2020. Here are the top 10 vegetables that received the highest number of responses: Brussels Sprouts, Garlic, Greens, Ramps, Salad Mix, Winter Squash, Strawberries, Sweet Corn, Sweet Potatoes & Tomatoes.
We asked the same question but asked the children in the household to answer the question. Here are the top 10 responses from the children: Green Beans, Broccoli, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Cucumbers, Melons, Potatoes, Strawberries, Sweet Corn and Tomatoes. We’d have to agree with both the adults and the children--these are some of our favorites too!
|Farmer Rafael scouting out ramps (2020)|
Most of the top 10 favorites are fairly short season, with some coming on in the peak of the summer and a few in late fall. While we all enjoy eating these in the peak of their season, we have to be realistic that we need more vegetables in our diet over the course of the year than just these top 10 favorites! This is one of the reasons we’ve worked hard to extend our season early in the year with some unique spring specialties like asparagus, ramps and rhubarb. At the end of the season we rely on a wide variety of storage vegetables to sustain us when fresh vegetables from the field are not an option. If you were to ask either of us what our top three favorite vegetables are, the answer would probably be different depending on what season we are in! That’s the beauty of seasonal eating. You can have many favorites throughout the year which means you always have something to look forward too!
Last year we had a phenomenal response to our “Produce Plus” offers, both during the year as well as with our “End of Season Special Offers.” This is another great way to “stretch” the season so you can continue to eat local the entire year. Last night we enjoyed our final bag of green beans we had frozen back in August and we’re still using frozen mini sweet peppers in everything from scrambled eggs to soups, stir fry and pizzas. They taste just as delicious now as they did in the summer! Some of you may still be enjoying jars of salsa or tomatoes you canned last summer and there are at least a few of you who have some pickled jalapenos on your shelf too! Just this week I spoke with two members who still have sweet potatoes and winter squash they got at the end of the season. They are storing well and they have found many ways to continue to enjoy them. We’ve received a few emails from members who ran out of carrots and other winter roots earlier than they anticipated and have made some notes for themselves that read something like this “Order more vegetables at the end of the season so you don’t run out before spring!”
There are many ways to extend the local Midwestern growing season and your CSA season. Whether it’s canning, freezing, fermenting or drying vegetables; stocking up on storage vegetables; or simply making large batches of recipes you can freeze and tuck away in the freezer, they all help bridge the gap between growing seasons while keeping your body well-nourished and healthy. So, this year we’ve tried to build in a little extra to our planting plans so we can better provide for those who would like to take advantage of stocking up beyond their weekly vegetable shares. If there are specific items you are interested in purchasing in bulk, please let us know. If we are able to do so we’ll add it to the list!
That’s a wrap for now. It’s time to go water the plants in the greenhouse, finish the fertilizer order, work on the spring training plan, and do the final edits to the 2021 CSA calendar so we can send it to the printer! Enjoy the rest of this month and we’ll catch up again in April!