Welcome to your life as a Fall CSA member, the club of squash soup supporters, allium enthusiasts, root rooters, and hearty green heart throbs. It’s an eclectic posse of folks we’ve got here, unafraid of fennel and cool with kohlrabi (or so we hope!). The Fall season holds a special place in our woolen hearts. When Nathaniel and I started off as a wee lil farmer lad and lass we thought we may very well be exclusively cold weather growers. The cold season veg market was wide open, the foods were our faves, and it felt thrilling to picture pulling veggies out from under layers of row cover and mulch amidst the whipping winter wind. Some of you were there with us, up at Greenbank Farm where it all began.
Year one, we enjoyed a shockingly mild winter, allowing us to pull off a substantial CSA well into February without really knowing what we were doing. Beginners’ luck for sure! Year two, Mother Nature didn’t hook us up in the same fashion and instead dumped heavy snow for our last share of the season. This shut down the roads to all but four-wheel drive vehicles (which we didn’t have) and public transit. We proudly delivered shares up to the Coupeville Hospital on the bus. A year or so after that, we had to cut our season off a week earlier than expected thanks to a six-day hard frost that killed even our heartiest roots under the thickest winter row cover.
Thus, over the past 12 years running a fall/winter farm share program, we’ve grown cautious about pushing the season late into the year. We’re admittedly also a little soft now that we’re more aged and our backs and hands feel the realities of cold weather. BUT- we are still passionate about farming this time of year! The harvests are so much less hectic without the slow-to-pick summer crops (we’re looking at you beans and zucchini). We don’t need to rush irrigation to and fro. And the crops are all weeded and mature, just hanging out waiting to be picked.
It fills the heart with elation to look around and see 600 cabbages ready to kraut, 800 brussel stalks begging to be roasted, and a whole tunnel of cleaned onions, garlic, squash and shallots aching to be masticated (I know, those guys are odd). We’re breathing easy, sleeping more, and feeling thankful for the cooling weather and shifting day length. Hope you can say the same.
As of right now, it looks like we’ll be just fine for our standard pick-up this week. We, along with the rest of the Northwest were fired up about our first potential harvest in a bomb cyclone, but alas, we bunched carrots in underwhelming 20mph gusts and sideways rain. Catch ya next time, bc! To prepare for the gusty guest that didn’t show, we, along with farmers throughout the PNW took the plastic off all our caterpillar tunnels, which was mighty adult of us, if I do say so myself. Normally, we wait until a windstorm decides to remove half of the plastic for us and then we go join in in a chaotic scene that is hazardous to human safety, but my, is it exhilarating!! We also pre-filled all our washtubs with water so we’d be ready to tidy up your share in a dark, powerless wash station, but that also didn’t need to happen. Lastly, we removed about 20 – 125 foot long sheets of row cover that were protecting our carrots from rust fly and our brassicas from root maggot. We once had a piece of row cover form its own ghostly tornado, take flight, and land in the top of an 80 year old Doug Fir. Not our finest hour. So yah, basically, I’m saying, we, like all of you, made some little preparations and we want a high five for it. Don’t leave us hanging!
Fall vibes are cranked to 11. A season’s worth of carbon and solar energy has culminated into a bunch of roundish, delicious things. They’ve been reaped, cleaned and stored for the next several months of photosynthetic downtime. The winter squash is picked and artfully stacked in the greenhouse for curing while the onions and garlic are boxed, labeled and oh so orderly stuffed under our garage ping pong table. Hundreds of pounds and over 80 varieties of seeds are almost completely harvested, threshed, screened, winnowed, dehydrated and tucked into 4 gallon buckets where they may live in our entryway for the next several weeks, and proper storage racks for the next several years, awaiting their shipment to another random plot of dirt in the U.S. Potatoes are being dug and stowed away in garbage bins with a bit of wood shavings.
Out in the fields, the fall clover, rye, oats and vetch are coming up thick and green (almost looking like we know what we’re doing after so many years of patchy, mistimed cover crop seedings!). The sheep have moved off their summer veggie/cover crop paddocks onto a longer term winter pasture (our uncultivated back acre) so, as the daylight wanes, the fall cover crops can focus their precious energy toward growing leaves and not wool. Firewood is stacked, greenhouses are clearing out and the last of the hanging apples are quickly succumbing to yellowjackets and their ilk. Back inside, the meals are getting a bit less fruity and a bit more rooty as we revel in the season’s first rutabagas, winter radishes and parsnips. The barn is still a chaotic warzone. If it’s lucky, it may enjoy a few fleeting days of organization sometime in the dead of winter when nobody is around to appreciate it.
Tomatoes (and newsletter writers) Gone Wild
You may have noticed that here at Deep Harvest
we are unequivocally pro-tomato. Eleven years into farming, we’re still experimenting with an obscene number of new varieties, ever searching for the best and the brightest (ie the most flavorful and highest yielding) solanaceous fruits possible this side of the Cascades. Why? Because the people demand it!! Ok, not really. Simply because with think they’re fun, beautiful, delicious and generally beloved. Am I right? Tell me I’m right! For some practical, but mostly whimsical reasons, this season we’ve sought varieties with traits we haven’t previously offered in our CSA or seed catalog. For example, we trialed various apricot-sized fuzzy tomatoes (all too slow, not tasty enough), Cherokee Purple look-alikes hoping one was as delicious but not so crack prone (again, no dice), Big hand-sized heirlooms, because we think people love those (here there were winners, namely the big creamsicle colored Oma’s Orange and our favorite tomato named after a Russian Space traveler—Cosmonaut Volkov). We won’t bore you with the trials and tribulations of our 1oz determinant red tomato trial. You get it, we have an infatuation that at some point may need to be addressed. But for now… on to tomato care!
Tomatoes are far and away the gold medal winners in categories of neediest and riskiest crops. We seed these divas in early February on expensive heat mats in our start houses. Come March, they’re potted up into 4-inch pots (500 4-inch pots) and get watered early each day to avoid going into cool nights with wet leaves (they hate that!). In May they’re deeply, carefully planted into greenhouses, tunnels or outdoors in black plastic with drip irrigation and trellised with t-posts and twine using the Florida weave (google that one!) or twisted up twine hanging from a special tomato trellising device called a tomahook. We spare no expense to keep them feeling well supported! Once a week, May through mid-August the tomatoes get pruned. Our indeterminant (indefinite growing) tomatoes are snipped to two leaders— that is, we select two main growing stems and cut off all other suckers that appear in order to maximize airflow and minimize chance of disease. Our determinants and cherries just get pruned to make sure harvest is quick and easy and that good airflow is possible. And, and, and— my oh my yipes—I can talk, write and think about tomatoes forever. Please forgive me. My love is clearly vast and overwhelming and maybe oppressive. Sorry tomatoes. And sorry to those of you who are still reading this. Errr… ok….. tomatoes. We love em. They’re difficult. Time consuming. Expensive to grow. But if they don’t get the ever-terrifying late blight, early blights or one of countless other tomato grower terrors, they’re terrific— tomatorrific??? Oof. Ick. Cutting myself off. Thanks for going on that journey with me. The end!
Mandatory August deep breaths. Will you join me? Breathe in…… breathe out…… Breathe in…… Breathe— AhhHHH never mind! No time! No time! Strap on the oxygen machine and go go go! Let’s see some hustle! In preparation for .15 inches of theoretical rain, we got an early morning start to harvest 5,000 onions that could’ve rotted if wet, 225 ft. of cherry tomatoes that needed to be plucked for csa, and 500 feet of strawberries that don’t do well when damp (really, who does?). That’s almost enough for a normal Monday right there, but onward ho we go! We then employed gigantic silage tarps as rain jackets for beet and chard seed crops that are just ripe enough to be destroyed by rain, but not ready enough to harvest. It’s a hefty job, but the details are a bore, so on we go through our Pinnacle Day for Productivity. Nathaniel harvested lettuce and phacelia seed and threshed parsnip seed then headed off to another isolation plot with his bro to harvest plump umbels of mature carrot. Meanwhile Brian and I collected and processed millet, feverfew, scabiosa, and spinach seed to make room for new seed harvests to enter our seed drying caterpillar tunnel. Our kind sister-in-law and work-traders shop-vac’d and swept up soon to be ripe nasturtium seeds from plants we grew in landscape fabric for easy seed collecting. Brian sprayed coolers, lugs and pack shed tubs to get ready for Tuesday’s harvest and I shuffled irrigation lines around twice, knowing our predicted rain wouldn’t likely be enough for mature food crops. How right I was… Now 8pm, Nathaniel and I sit on our bed with the door closed to muffle the noise of kids pretending to be kittens, while writing you this little note. He checks the weather. The rain passed us by. Sigh… and breathe.
Ever wonder what it takes to design a CSA crop plan? How do we ensure that there are at least 8 crops each week for the farmshare, with a revolving diversity of items and without too much excess left in the field. How are we able to deliver your favorite crops like lettuce and carrots on lots of weeks but fennel and kohlrabi not so much? The answers is a mix of fancy Excel algorithms, years of fine tuning and innate genius (okay, probably not that). We start by designing our theoretical ideal crop plan: We put crops on the y axis, dates on the x axis and then mark which crops we want to give each week. This requires knowing how early crops can conceivably be grown and harvested, how many weeks in a row a specific crop needs to be harvested, and a general idea of what makes a happy CSA customer. It’s also necessary to know how many weeks a crop can hold in the field before bolting or getting pithy, fibrous or bitter. Then we work backwards from each harvest date for each crop, subtracting the Days to Maturity in order to generate a planting date. This involves knowing approximately how many days it takes to mature a radish planted on Mar 17, or a zucchini transplanted on May 20, which is specific to every growing region. At this point we have a long list of hundreds of planting dates for over 40 different vegetable crops which we call our….Planting Calendar. Some crops like peppers only have one planting date while others like carrots or beets have six or seven different dates. (Since carrots only hold in the field 3 weeks we have to plant them every 3 weeks to have a constant supply). Some days we plant LOTS of crops and some days we plant none.
Okay, now that we have our timing figured out, let’s talk amounts or “bed feet.” To know how many bed feet (number of linear feet in a 5ft wide bed) of carrots we need to plant for, say, 2 weeks of CSA, it’s important to have a rough guess on what carrots yield. These figures can be looked up online, but it’s better to gather your own farm-specific data over several years of harvests based on your own soils, climate, pests, diseases, etc. At this point in our careers we know that broccoli yields about 1.3 heads per bed foot, and so we can be pretty certain that 77 bed feet will be enough for 100 CSA members. So, we then write 77 ft next to the corresponding broccoli date in our planting calendar. (This also assumes you already know the correct planting spacing with the bed, but that’s getting a little in the weeds). We then always overplant about 15%, assuming there will be some crop loss from disease, insect damage, bolting, bad germination, or a million other reasons.
Okay that’s an extremely simplified run-down of crop planning, but hopefully it gives you an idea of the planning required for every crop, every week of the season.