Posted on

Storing Fall Vegetables

We like to kick off each Fall CSA season with a refresher on how to store your fall veggies. Apologies to our callused members who have received this info a dozen times already! For our new members, here are a few pro-tips for prioritizing your produce for consumption and storing items that don’t get consumed immediately. The great thing about Cool Season veggies is that they generally store in your fridge or on the counter much longer than wilt-prone summer salad greens or fruitfly-attracting tomatoes and cucumbers.

  • All items except onions, garlic, squash and potatoes are best stored in the fridge in plastic bags if not consumed within a day or so. Too much moisture in the plastic bag can lead to bacterial rot in both roots and greens, so make sure they’re not dripping wet as they go into the fridge.
  •  Not-so-hardy greens such as Spinach, Mustards, Salad mix, and Frisee are generally the most wilt-prone items in your share. They should last up to a week in the the fridge, but we’d still recommend consuming them relatively quickly after pick-up.
  • Hardier braising greens such as Kale, Chard, and Collards can generally last a bit longer before wilting. (Also, since these greens are generally cooked, it’s not as consequential if they get a bit wilty before consumption)
  •  Broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, brussels and cabbage will all store a bit better than greens, but not quite as long as roots. Broccoli is the quickest to turn yellow and rot, while cabbage can last several week.
  • Roots such as carrots, beets, parsnips, rutabaga, leeks and winter radishes can last many weeks if stored properly in the fridge. Since moisture loss happens mostly through the leaves, we’d recommend removing the greens before refrigeration. Greens can be composted, or in the case of beets, saved as a separate item to be consumed like spinach (so tasty!).
  • Onions, garlic, winter squash are best stored on the counter or in any other non-refrigerated place out of the sun. Don’t feel compelled to eat these items right away. If kept dry, they might last you well beyond the year’s end and into winter.
  • Potatoes also prefer non-refridgerated storage, but like it a bit cooler and moister than room temperature. If you’re not going to eat your potatoes for several week after pick-up, you might consider storingthem in a paper bag or cardboard box in your garage, or any other cool, dark area. Otherwise, the counter is just fine for short term storage.
Posted on

The Chic Chicories   

 In case you didn’t know, chicories are all the rage. If you’re still in the dark, we forgive you, as the trend is still mostly limited to market farmers, food bloggers, hip chefs and… Italians. But that’s how all fringe greens get their starts, including kale and arugula back in the late aughts. A decade later, this motley crew of radicchio (Castelfrancos, Treviso, Chioggia, Verona, etc), sugarloaf, endive, escarole, and frisée, collectively known as chicories, are poised to eclipse the trendy greens of yore and make their mark on leafy history. And for good reason. Composed of three different species, the genus Chicorium boasts a wide diversity of cold-hardy, flavorful and aesthetically stunning greens that thrive in our cool, wet Northwest off-seasons. Their wide range of phytochemicals provide resistance to insect and fungal damage in the dank fall months compared to other greens. These secondary plant molecules also provide an endless array of bitter flavor profiles. Local Roots farm in Duvall, has made a name for themselves by trialing dozens of chicory varieties from the Seeds of Italy catalog, identifying the best for our area and producing loads of these greens for the Seattle restaurant market. Seattle has in turn caught chicory fever and even started their own Chicory Week and Chicory Fest, modeled after the regional food festivals of Italy. Yes, these farmers, breeders, chefs and foodies have carved out an entire week to celebrate glorified dandilions. Are you sold yet? Hopefully you enjoyed your frisee salad this past week and are ready to dive deeper. This week’s share you get a head of Variegata di Castlefranco, known in Italy as “Orchid Lettuce” and “Winter Rose”. Dig in.
Posted on

What’s up with Real Organic?

Many of you already know this, but to some of you this may come as a surprise, so brace yourselves for some news.  It might blow your mind…. You ready?? Ok… don’t say, I didn’t warn you… Here it comes —   the   Organic  label   is   imperfect.  Did I hear a gasp out there in the crowd? You, in the back, are you going to be ok?  We’ll check back in on you in a little bit.  So. Why do I speak such blasphemy? Well, my friends, let me tell you. Back in 1995, the National Organic Standards Board defined the term organic as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.” Sadly, in recent years, Big Ag has convinced the USDA to ignore the main element of what it means to be organic— the soil! Now input dependent hydroponic warehouses and confined animal operations are allowed under the label, leaving consumers in the dark regarding how and where their food was produced.  The organic label still prevents the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides and encourages at least some amount of crop rotation, thus providing customers more confidence in what they’re buying than unlabeled goods can.  We still reach out for the organic products in the grocery when we can’t talk directly to the producer we’re buying from.  However, all this watering down of “organic” has resulted in some new movements in the farming world that bring us soil lovers new energy and hope. One is the recently formed Real Organic Label, through which we are proud to be certified.  It was started by organic farmers and advocates to push the National Organic Program back to its roots in the soil, but in the meantime serves to distinguish pasture-raised and soil-grown products from other organicgoods. It’s a small, but growing movement with a lot of sustainable ag thought leaders at its helm.  The other thrilling move in the sustainable farming universe is one towards “regenerative” ag practices, which like the Real Organic folks, aim to tend and care for soil.  The Regenerative Ag movement is working to address climate change by promoting farming practices that sink carbon back into the earth. These approaches include planting perennials, cover crops, limiting tillage, rotating animals, and increasing plant diversity. I’m sure Nathaniel will nerd out on all of this in greater detail in a future newsletter. For now, if you’re interested in learning more about regenerative ag, give the new, beautifully produced Netflix Documentary “Kiss the Ground” a gander. Woody Harrelson narrates through a compelling cast of real farm characters who aim to reverse climate change by restoring soil. It highlights a fellow named Gabe Brown who farms outside of my hometown of Bismarck, ND in such an innovative, soil-regenerating manner that he’s been named one of the 25 more influential ag leaders in the US (#NDpride!).  This flick was stellar enough to get my ND teacher sister back into composting and to text me repeatedly, “I’m so inspired.” Aww.  It’s worth 90 minutes of your time and the ideas it holds are worth all of us taking seriously. What are you waiting for? Get thee to Netflix! And then to your compost bin and beyond!
Posted on

A Patent on…Pinkness?

Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont, BASF….what do these company names connote to you? You probably know these companies as some the world’s largest producers of chemicals, from glyphosate to alka seltzer. These companies, along with a few others, own hundreds of other smaller companies and are responsible for the vast majority of chemicals produced on the planet, chemicals that define how we grow food, manage our health, and run our industries. But did you know these companies also pose one of the greatest risks to biodiversity currently threatening the worlds food supply? In addition to producing the herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides that all too commonly drench our fields, these companies are increasingly playing a hand in altering and patenting the species and varieties on which these chemicals are sprayed. The playbook often goes like this: take a common variety that has been grown, saved and selected on for thousands of generations; use modern GM tech to alter a single gene or two among the plant’s tens of thousands; apply for a utility patent which claims you’ve invented a novel product; force this product on the world’s farmers who now have no financial choice but to stay on this technological treadmill; via patent law, prevent other farmers, gardeners, independent breeders and universities from saving, sharing, and selling the seed or using the genetic material to further breed new varieties for the public commons. If this sounds evil, it’s because it is. While in many cases patents can be used to incentivize and reward creativity, this phenomenon does the opposite. By locking up more and more genetic material into the hands of a handful of multinational corporations, intellectual property laws are preventing hundreds of thousands of farmers and breeders the opportunity to use this gift of nature, this public technology, to further develop varieties that will be important to the future of our species. We’ve heard from many organic seed companies and university breeders that are already feeling the chill. But the problem gets even nuttier: Now, many of these companies are applying for patents over entire traits, like pinkness in tomatoes, long necks in broccoli or even, get this…drought resistance! These are traits often governed by the interaction of hundreds of genes in ways nobody completely understands (let alone created).  It remains to be seen how well some of these more egregious patents will actually get approved, or more importantly, hold up in court if the company actually sues for infringement. The issue really hit home for us local organic seed producers when, last week, another small local seed company received a letter from one of the companies mentioned above. It was essentially a soft threat, stating that they were in pursuit of patenting several broad, vague plant traits, similar to the ones I just listed. A more formal way of saying: you little pesky seed companies better think twice before carrying any varieties that also have those traits, cause they’re ours! Oof. Unfortunately, this is all going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I think the best way to counter this trend is to decentralize the seed sector so completely, with hundreds of thousands more breeders, seed savers, regional seed companies, seed libraries, etc, that such patents could never be feasibly enforced. I like to think we’re playing a tiny role in this project.
Posted on

Cover Cropping Foibles

Farming often feels like an impossibly complex, multivariate puzzle that resets itself every few minutes, often before you can even discern if you took any successful steps toward solving it. It’s like a rubik’s cube that only gives you 2 minutes a day to figure the damn thing out. It’s like that movie Groundhogs Day, except that….
Okay, terrible metaphors aside, we often feel like we’re just winging it. Nothing exemplifies this feeling more than cover cropping. Trying to find the best covercrop to fit the right season, the right soil moisture, current crop residue, given weed pressure, future cash crop planting date, nutrient needs of the soil, etc can feel a bit perplexing. Let’s say we’re trying to find the right cover to plant after tilling in our summer brassicas. Winter Rye is a wonderfully hardy winter cover, but is hard to kill in the spring and its stubble takes forever to break down, often suppressing the germination of small vegetable seeds. So rye is really only appropriate if we’re planning on sowing a late summer or fall cropthe following year. But most of our late season crops are brassicas, and we just planted those here this year, and we really should rotate out of brassicas at least two years between plantings. Sooo maybe it’s better to go with Cayuse Oats in this field, which die over winter after a few frosts and will allow us to get in an early non-brassica spring crop. Nope, this particular field is generally full of standing water until May, so we need something that will survive the winter and put on growth in early spring, helping transpire the soil moisture out of the field so we can get our tractor in there. So, maybe Barley? Sure, let’s try Barley. But now what legume should be coupled with it? Crimson clover is nice, but probably won’t compete well with winter weeds. Field peas are good, but don’t really fix that much nitrogen, and we pulled lots of nitrogen out of this field with all those long-season kales. How about Hairy Vetch? Yeah, lets try that, I mean, as long as the field dries out in time to mow it in April so the vetch doesn’t set seed and create vetch weeds for years to come. Okay, let’s be sure to document our seeding date and how many lbs per bed of seed we applied so we can compare to other experimental plots in other fields. 3 days later: Oh, crap, my discs weren’t set up perfectly so the seed didn’t get buried quite deep enough and germination was crappy and then then 300 blackbirds came in and ate 75% percent of the germinating seed and…screw it. Try again next year?
Posted on

Seed Germination Rates of Deep Harvest Seeds

Not the sexiest title for blog post headline, but we’re going with it. The below photo is an example of what’s been coming into our inbox lately from Colorado Seed Lab. A couple weeks back we sent over 100 samples of seed to the lab for germination testing, and have been getting pretty stellar results, generally between 95-99% viable. While federal standards require seed companies to sell vegetable seeds with between 60-80% germination, depending on the crop, we never sell anything below 80%. 80% tends to be the accepted industry standard, except for certain flowers and herbs which can be hard to get that high. On average, our seed has been tested at 94% viable over the past two years. No bad. It can be a bummer to obsessively tend to a seed crop for 6 months to year and then get a bad germ report back without an explanation for what went wrong. Immature, diseased, dormant? It’s hard to know. There are usually at least a couple duds every year, generally on those heat loving crops that are hard to mature for seed at our latitude and mild climate. Luckily, that hasn’t yet happened yet this sweet germ report season. Crossing fingers the good news keeps a flowin so that we’ll all maximize our chances for vigorous and abundant gardens in 2020.

Posted on

When the Farm Catches the Cold: Winter Farming Preparations

We’ve had a few decent frosts already this fall, and while I can’t remember clearly when they came in previous years, it seems a bit early for temps this low. Here on Shore Meadows Rd, the actual nighttime temps always seem 5-10F lower than the forecasted lows. So, when the forecast predicts 40F lows, it’s a good time to begin going into frost-preparation mode (we’re in it!).

While most of our fall crops can handle varying degrees of freezing temps, there are still a few tender items in the field that need monitoring. Mid-large sized broccoli and cauliflower heads can begin to rot even with a slight frost exposure. Lettuces, bok choi, chards, frisee and escarole are also fairly tender. So, during weather like this we generally cover these crops with heavy-duty floating row cover (which can prevent freezing as low as ~22F.) Another strategy is to harvest before the frosts come and store the veg in the walk-in cooler (never more than a week) until CSA, farmer’s market, etc. The latter option isn’t our preference, as we like our veggies delivered/sold as fresh as possible.

Today (Monday), in anticipation of a potentially serious frost later tonight, we harvested our broccoli, salad mix and parley. Generally, we would harvest everything the day of CSA. Another reason for harvesting today vs tomorrow is the possible lack of frost-free, daylight harvesting hours tomorrow. Often, when it’s really cold, the crops down thaw out until afternoon (if at all!), giving us no time to harvest for CSA. Harvesting veggies when partially frozen will result in the premature wilting and rotting in storage.

Of course, another strategy for fending off frost is planting inside greenhouses or tunnels. Unfortunately, our tomatoes, eggplants, and pepper usually don’t wind down until early Oct, too late for a fall planting of greens in the greenhouse. We get more money out of milking these high-value summer crops into late summer and early fall than we could from a single planting of fall spinach or arugula.

Our main strategy in warding off death-by-frost is variety selection. Ten years of variety trials have equipped us with tons of knowledge about the relative cold hardiness of fall vegetables varieties. This is one of our main criteria in choosing which varieties are planting for our fall CSA.

Posted on

Regenerative Agriculture and Rewilding Farms

There’s been quite the buzz lately about Regenerative Agriculture, a new wave of farming practices that goes beyond the organic standards set by the National Organic Program, toward a truly more sustainable, ecological type of agriculture. As the climate continues to change beyond recognition, the world’s topsoil continues to erode and wild ecosystems continue to get bulldozed into industrial monocultures, it’s becoming clear to an increasing number of farmers, consumers and political leaders (Beto O-Rourke even mentioned Regenerative Ag at the last debates!) that something drastic needs to change. Business as usual may continue to feed increasing numbers of people in the short term, but will precipitate ecological collapse in the not-so-long term.

While the list of necessary changes to our global agriculture are endless, one area of focus must be the transformation of marginal, low-productive farmland back into diverse, carbon-sequestering habitat. Areas with minuscule rainfall, rocky soils, short growing seasons, etc., would, in many cases, be better left to regenerate into their former forests, prairie and scrublands. Back in the mid-century, as Agriculture’s get-big-or-get-out mentality compelled farmers to plant “fence line to fence line”, we lost nearly all of our remaining woodlands, hedgerows, bogs and prairies east of the Rockies.  It’s imperative that we restore these features of our native landscape. Any small losses in yields as a result of this restoration could be offset by a combination of smarter, regenerative farming practices that focus on soil building and polycultures coupled with smarter national policies and subsidies that incentivize healthy food over ethanol, corn syrup and beef. These changes would help stabilize the climate and provide critical habitat and ecosystem services without significantly diminishing global food yields.

On Whidbey Island, our land management could use improvement. There are few productive farms outside of the Coupeville prairie and vanishing little healthy, old growth forests or wetlands. Instead we have a steady increase in 5-acre parcels with a single house, fenced lawns, and perhaps a single horse or cow. If we are serious about both fighting climate change AND feeding a growing population, we’re gonna have to be smarter with our scarce land resource. I’d like to see most of our rural “homesteads” transition either into actual food production or back into native forestland. Future development should be concentrated in existing urban areas or other marginal lands.

On our farm, we inherited quite a bit of rocky, unproductive pasture. We could put this toward grazing sheep or pastured poultry, but this would likely be difficult to incorporate into our already over-complicated business model. (Also, we like taking weekends now and again, which animals don’t easily allow) Instead, we hope to return this area into a mix of carbon-sinking perennials: orchards, hedgerows, and native trees. This week we experimented by seeding a native wildflower mix on a 1000-sq ft patch of dirt we had been prepping for the past 6 months. (Check out if you’re interested in establishing some rare and hard-to-find wildflower and grass species on your property.) This winter we intend to expand our hedgerows area and plant more fruit trees.

Posted on

On-Farm Plant Breeding pt. 2

The seed company is a relatively new type of business, only gaining a foothold in the last 100 years or so with the advents of seed patents and hybrid seed technology. However, back before the seed companies controlled the breeding, production and supply of seeds, farmers were in charge of their own seed stocks. (Well, there was awhile when the federal government and land grant colleges played a crucial role too, but that’s beside the point). Back in the day, farmers had to make sure that they didn’t harvest and sell their entire crop for food, but that they also kept enough plants for saving seed, so that they would have seeds to plant the following season. This process inevitably begs the question: which plants did they sell/eat and which plants did they save for seed? Were the seed plants chosen at random? Did they just save the last few plants that happen to remain in the field toward the end of harvest? Hopefully not. Saving seed gives the farmer the chance to choose the most productive, flavorful, disease-resistant or well-adapted plants to pass on their genes, while culling out all the rest. Thus, most farmers were also de facto plant breeders, actively sculpting the gene pool of their crops toward more productive, resilient futures. Here at Deep Harvest, we are no exception. We’re constantly making choices as to which plants to harvest for CSA, and which to leave for seed saving.
This week planted three different over-wintered root crops for seed: Hilmar Carrot, Touchstone Gold Beet and Tokyo Market Turnip. Most root crops are biennial, meaning that they flower and produce seed their second season of growth after undergoing a winter vernalization period. The roots can either vernalize in the field, or you can harvest them and store them in a damp, cool environment.  We chose the latter.
Let’s take beets for example. The first step was to harvest an entire bed of beets and line them all up in a row, over a thousand in total. Then we walked the row and took out the obviously ugly, damaged, or insect-ridden roots. These got tilled into the field. We then evaluate the remaining roots for several preferred traits such as round shape, lack of hairiness, strong tops, dark color, large size and absence of insect damage or disease. We chose the best 200, cut off the stems, and put them into bins surrounded with wood shavings. The rest went to CSA and restaurants. We chose 200 roots because you need at least 80 as a minimum population size to prevent inbreeding depression, and we can assume that many will rot, freeze or get discovered by mice in storage, or perhaps meet other grim fates after replanting next spring. The hope is to have enough survivors to ensure a successful seed crop for harvest in summer 2019. We could have just left them into the ground all winter, but them we’d miss out on the wonderful opportunity for some casual plant breeding. This week the soil warmed enough to replant the roots in rows in the field. Soon they will begin sending out new leaves, followed later by a bolting shoot and flowers. Seed will follow!

Posted on

On-farm Breeding Projects

By Annie Jesperson

Sorry to get your hopes up, family. Here on the farm, we’re breeding new pepper varieties, not humans.  Still a little exciting, perhaps? For us, for sure, but for potential grandmas, likely not so much. While pepper-breeding, like child-rearing, is still subject to the mysterious whims of mother nature, over time us seed growers are direct the evolution of our plants toward the traits we crave.

So what are our goals with pepper breeding? Here in our cool Northwest summers yellow bell peppers can be hard to ripen.  The open-pollinated varieties currently on the market have failed to produce mature fruits in our cool, maritime fields. A solvable dilemma? Perhaps!  We’re now into year four of de-hybridizing our favorite hybrid yellow bell pepper “Catriona” in order to develop an open-pollinated variety that matures in our region. Additionally, we’re selecting for disease resistance, flavor and yields. We’re getting closer, folks.  Stay tuned!

Additionally, we’re working to breed a red bell pepper that is sweet and spicy.  Intriguing? For us plant nerds and cooking enthusiasts, indeed!  Two years ago, we saved seed on a sweet, red bell pepper called King of the North.  At the time, we didn’t realize it had crossed with our spicy Padrone peppers, as we had given them what we thought was ample isolation distance. But, every once in awhile some industrious pollinator carries pollen between varieties that are far apart, even with self-pollinating crops like peppers.  Luckily, we sampled our King of the North fruits before selling their seed, and we noted they had a crazy unexpected kick. Ow!  That spiciness caught us off guard, but once we bit in to another pepper, expecting this result, we found the experience quite appealing and worth sharing.  It’ll likely be a few years before we’ve stabilized this variety enough to warrant selling, but we’re excited for when that day comes and hope you are too!

For now, if you’d like to just grow yourself some nummy peppers, hook yourself up with our spicy Padrones for frying or our sweet Mini Red Bells for salads and stuffing.  If you’d like to save your own pepper seed, just grow one variety in a small garden, as peppers need 160 feet of isolation distance to keep a variety pure. For more basic info on how to save seed check out: Need a reminder of why it’s important to support local, organic and open-pollinated seed? No sweat….go HERE!