Whoa...these past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind. Trying to stay caught up with all of the spring planting while also working around 35mph wind gusts, a snow storm, and a hard freeze has proven to be a test of not only our stamina, but also our patience! Though here we are, as caught up as we can be, and feeling pretty content to have gotten it all finished before the rain. Let's go for a walk, and take a look around the farm...
Prepping for the hard freeze last weekend took a little brainstorming, as the forecast lows were set to be record breaking. Luckily, over the winter, I read a book by Eliot Coleman about winter farming. In the book, Coleman talks about a technique he uses in Maine to produce vegetables in the winter without supplemental heat. He begins by planting the crops in a hightunnel (an unheated greenhouse), and then he places floating row cover directly on top of the crops. This technique essentially uses the air of the high tunnel to act as an insulating layer against the cold, while the row cover holds in the heat that the ground has soaked up from the sun. However, we had one problem...these crops were not planted in a high tunnel, but rather in the open field.
What is it about a good challenge that brings out our creativity? Not one to just give up, I imagined using the same technique that Eliot Coleman has perfected, but on a miniature scale. We went to work covering every row with a double layer of floating row cover, and using leftover vented greenhouse film, built a mini-greenhouse over each row as well. This is where the 35mph wind gusts really made the job harder than it needed to be.
With a little bit of grit, and a lot of tenacity, we managed to get the job done...and every crop (except the recently transplanted broccoli) survived. Here is a look at the cabbages, which have now been through multiple rounds of freezing temperatures and several snowstorms.
Adding to the complexity of managing an ever dwindling amount of time to get things done, is a farm first: a premature calf. At about 3 weeks premature, this little guy couldn't even stand up to nurse. Since he didn't get any antibodies from his mothers milk, he also got scours (scours is an antiquated term used by farmers to describe any illness that causes diarrhea...it can be caused by any number of naturally occurring pathogens: salmonella, e.coli, coccidia, etc). Needing a bit more than just a helping hand, this guy spent his first 10 days of life in the house.
His mouth was so small that he required a lamb nipple on his bottle to be able to eat. His little body was so underdeveloped that he couldn't walk on his front feet, couldn't hold his ears up, and had a very poor coat. I dubbed him Littlefoot, a reference to the lovable dinosaur from The Land Before Time.
Luckily for Littlefoot, another calf was born on the same day that also required intervention, so a friend he shall have. A large calf was born as a twin, and in true cow fashion, his mother chose only 1 of her babies...and he did not fair well in the decision. If he were to survive, we would have to be the ones to raise him. We call him Jack, because he is sprightly, and likes to jump around like a jackrabbit.
As a farmer you have to always think a year ahead. If we want to add a crop to the csa offerings for next year, in most cases that work has to occur this year. As our long time members know, we are constantly working to improve the experience of our csa membership, and believe it or not, work has already began for the 2019 CSA members. This week we planted 1,000 crowns of asparagus, which will be ready for a first harvest in the spring of 2019.
Asparagus is a finicky plant when it comes to planting, and thus most of the work occurs by hand. The one year old crowns have to be planted at exactly 8", and then covered with exactly 2" of soil. As they sprout and grow out of the soil we will cover them with another 2" of soil, and we will repeat this process for a total of four times. These beds will produce for the next 20 years, so we require perfection at planting...as small mistakes now will lead to big headaches later.
If you have been a csa member for a while, you may remember that we used to have asparagus. Last year an old fence had to be removed, and pulling the wire and posts out required the help of large tractors. The only way to reach that fence was over the asparagus bed, and unfortunately the weight of the equipment destroyed the crowns. That asparagus was one of the absolute best things I have ever eaten in my life, so this time, I increased the amount planted by 400%.
We also pulled the 600 lbs of seed potatoes out of the walk-in this week. We then cut them into appropriately sized pieces for planting (~2oz), and let them scab over, which helps prevent rotting in the cool spring soil. We then expose them to light and heat in a technique known as chitting, which speeds the growth and helps boost the overall yield by sprouting the "eyes" prior to planting.
We also weeded and cleaned out some of the strawberry patch. We are loaded down with flowers, and it looks like it should be a fantastic year for all things strawberries. In addition to offering the ripe berries as usual, we will also use them for a few other offerings. Green strawberries are gaining in popularity with foodies, and so we will offer them this year for our more culinary adventurous members (click here for more info). We will also be turning some of them into delicious strawberry jam to offer during our winter csa. I don't want to digress, but you all are seriously going to absolutely love the winter csa...I have tons of awesome stuff planned for it.
We also had 3 semi loads of certified organic compost delivered this week. We'll use this as a fertilizer for the growing crops, and also as a mulch for the berry plants (to suppress weeds). As the trucks dumped their load, I laughed at how giddy we were over finding a local source of organic compost; at what point in my life did a truck load of horse shit become so exciting?!?
With the threat of rain on the horizon, we made one final push. We seeded 600 more feet of crops for the spring csa members: lettuce mix, baby kale, power greens salad mix, radishes, bunching onions, arugula, bok choys, kohlrabi, and baby spinach. Now we wait for the rain.
Storms are almost a finish line for farmers, ending a race to get just one more thing done; just one more row prepped for planting, just one more row weeded, or just one more row seeded. There is a special peacefulness that a thunderstorm brings to the soul (if you have your work caught up). We've learned to take advantage of the forced respite, because once the sun returns, the race is reset...and ready or not, it's time to go.
I'll see you next week.