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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Farewell CSA

These cabbages took forever to head up. We planted them the beginning of August and finally had just enough full heads to give them out for the last pick up. I love how striking they are. Just thought this an appropriate "title" picture for this post.

On Tuesday, December 15, we had our final CSA pick up for the year. It was a cold day, staying in the low 30s for the entire harvest (8am-2pm) and through the pick up (4-6pm). The wind pushed our cold, wet hands past the numb stage, and straight to aching pain. Even after several good freezes, we still managed to come up with a pretty nice harvest list for our last pick up. It looked something like this:
-Winter Squash (sweet dumplin or carnival)
-Sweet Potatoes
-Red Potatoes (still can't believe these stored so a cave)
-Radish (chinese rose and daikon)
-Chard (large bunches)
-Salad Mix (lettuce, mizuna, arugula, spinach)
-Celery (all you want)
-Amber Turnips
-Parsley (all you want)
-Garlic (all you want)

All this stuff looked pretty good washed, bunched, or bagged, and made for a nice end to the season. The salad mix was the only foolish idea I took on, and I only went through with it because it was the last pick up. Our row covers, the two keeping the lettuce warm enough to live in December, blew off Monday night, freezing almost all of the lettuce to a non-recoverable state. Realizing this Tuesday morning after putting Salad mix on the harvest list, I had to scrounge around to find enough small leaves to make it happen. I ended up robbing the super-late transplanting of fall lettuce, cutting the top growth off of the 200 or so lettuce plants that were to feed us this winter...
We cut all the Spinach, Mizuna, and Arugula and took it up to my house where we double washed, and hand spun the 50 bags of salad mix. Catie did most of the work, and it still took us hours. Never try to accomplish post-harvest-handling projects that you just aren't set up to do. Here's the hard & heavy veg table (things you don't want on top of greens). Wish I had a shot of the greens table.

Anyway, it was a fun pick up, despite the cold, and lots of folks gathered under the shed to hang out after getting their food. Several CSA members stayed for dinner after the farm pick up ended, and even some barefoot guy named Jeff showed up for dinner and a great end-of-season jam.

So the CSA season is now officially over. Where's the relief?! Now I actually have to start addressing all of the things that I planned to "get to in the winter".

What an incredible season, what incredible people...what a bunch of miracles.

(stay tuned for special Farewell Buddy addition coming soon)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Season is Over*

* = probably?

If it's not over, it sure looks like it. I believe it has stayed below freezing for at least two days now in the garden valley. I went into town last night to a going away party for a family in the CSA and checked the garden valley thermometer on the way out. Guess how low?

13 degrees by 8pm! I don't know how low it got, but I can bet it dropped a few more degrees by 5am. I knew our frost pocket here had colder temps than Nashville, but this is a pretty significant difference.

Most plants that can tolerate light-moderate freezes will recover in time with the warming daytime temps. In the field, the puddles on the ground have been frozen even during the daylight hours.

The weather has told us that it's time to start rolling up the row covers, and planning how we can help plants grow again here when the warmer weather returns. This is all well and good, but don't we have one more CSA pick up? I'm hoping we can get enough thaw and recovery by Tuesday to give out some chard, kale, lots of celery, and the staple potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and garlic. I'll also pull out the rest of the amber turnips, beets, and carrots. We'll also harvest baby lettuce, mizuna, arugula, and all of the spinach, which will make nice bags of salad-mix. We'll also have several types of radishes, kohlrabi, cabbages, and whatever is not frozen. It should be a decent harvest for the last pick up. ...last not including a few weeks of extension for the members who don't mind having their produce pre-frozen!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fall and Winter Growing

The fall has been my favorite growing season so far. Above any other reason, it's just easy. The time leading up to fall weather, however, is anything but easy and can cause plenty of worry if you let it. From about September through mid-October, every bug seems to notice the cold weather approaching and decides to invade the garden for one last hungry horrah. Not to mention the plants you must start seeding/growing in August (the hottest time of year)are adapted to thriving in the cool season (now!) If the starts and transplants can survive the wilting heat, the bugs will surly give them a good working over. If the plant can manage to be more leaf than it is holes until the weather significantly cools, you've got yourself a nice fall stand. I'll point out that this season we had remarkably cool and wet fall weather.

To maintain this nice stand, I try to do the following:

- Hoe out all rows as regularly as possible.
My tight row spacing in the fall married with the regular rain makes it impossible to cultivate with the small tractor. I like to use a stirrup or a scuffle hoe to take out weeds. If it's dry enough, I will do this even when it's not weedy. Disturbing the soil this way aerates the soil and plant roots, while killing any germinating weed seeds. This light cultivation also leaves a thin layer of "dust" on the soil surface acting as a mulch to prevent seeds from germinating...until it rains again.

- Roll out row covers when you expect the first frost.
Row covers can extend our season significantly by protecting the crops from nightly frosts and freezes. Row covers can be weighed down with large stones, pvc pipes filled with sand, rebar, posts, logs, etc. I also like Jeff Poppen's idea of weighing down row covers with plastic pots filled with compost. When it's time to remove the cover, just throw the compost onto the field and stack the pots. Using pvc or wire hoops to hold up the cover is another way to create a mini-hot house.

My row covers are made by Agribon and give me about 6 degrees protection. Agribon also makes a heavy row cover that gives 8 degrees. For the first several light frosts, you can cover peppers, basil, and whatever other plants you want to keep producing. When these rows of frost-intolerant plants are winter-killed, simply lift their cover and move it over to the beets, carrots, chard, whatever and get double the insulation.

- Manage Harvests
Things grow slow in the fall and winter due to the cold and lack of sunlight with the shorter days. I try to pay close attention to the growth of each crop, how fast it can regenerate after harvest, how it is holding up against the cold, etc. To give you some idea, crops that can typically be harvested weekly and rebound in the summer and fall (like kale and chard) take 2-3 weeks to recharge this time of year.

I also planted my fall/winter rows close together [about 12" - 18") so they could all easily fit under one row cover. This also makes it easier to harvest and hoe, while allowing you to grow 3 rows in what was only 1 row this spring and summer. I would prefer to mulch the paths separating the rows (I use hay), but haven't done so on every path for a few reasons.

SO, why do most people throw in the gardening towel sometime in August? I definitely relate to the overwhelmed feeling of "I can't go on" during the height of the season, but if you suck it up and get some seeds in the ground you're set. It's mid-December and we're having some of our highest quality harvests this year!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Winding Down

This picture is a fairly accurate reflection of the mood around here. It's cold and wet and no one is doing that much work. There are things to be done here and there, but the garden isn't getting as much attention as it has for the last several months. The fall, and soon winter, garden is doing fine but the growing is slow due to cold, overcast skies, and the significantly shorter days we have now. Overall, a fall garden is pretty easy to manage once the plants get going. If all the seedlings can survive the bug-months of August, September, and even October, than it's smooth sailing. Smooth enough that I'm considering extending the CSA into winter for the members who have requested this. In fact, we've still got a lot of stuff out there. Here's the list:
-Bok Choy - Chinese Cabbage (nappa, michihili)- American Cabbage (purple, golden) -Celery - Swiss Chard (gold, magenta, green)- Fall peas - Spinach - Kale - Beets - Carrots - Turnips - Radishes - Broccoli - Lettuce - Tatsoi - Mizuna - Arugula - and whatever I'm forgetting. There are plenty of sweet potatoes, irish potatoes, winter squash, and garlic in storage, so we're in good shape there.

I was going through some old photos and found a few that really reflect just how much things have winded down since the summer...

Yeah, that's my living room. The other shot is from some day in August. Thankfully, things aren't that crazy and I'm even finding time to worry about next year.

There's also a lot of list-making going on. Here's today's, unedited:
-observations for fall (b. grass, bugs)
-battery for fence (12v)
-clean house/porch
-assign compost bin
-fresh manure - save manure tea?
-Rachel's Bday
-cover rows/double
-Ki/Nathalie order
-order for Sherry
-short mnt. - order for Sandor
-winter squash ravioli
-map of farm

We won't talk about how many things got checked off...

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I woke up Tuesday morning feeling unusually calm. Unusual because Tuesday is our CSA pick-up day and subsequently the craziest day of the week during the growing season. I wake up, rush over to meet the interns and Tuesday volunteers, scarf down breakfast, and go over the changes in the Tuesday routine. This usually consists of what needs harvesting, how much to harvest, how much harvesting each row can take, who will harvest what, and in what order (this changes with wet conditions, wind, frost, heat, ect.).

Winter is a time when everything contracts. This is said to be a good time to learn, retain information, and strengthen yourself for the next year. This Tuesday I woke up, thought just that, and felt good. I walked outside to a very heavy freeze and realized the season may be over.

I felt the total calm that you feel in the woods in winter, especially after a snow. No movement, no wind, just calm. I felt a strong sense of relief when I walked down the hill towards the garden, boots crunching on frozen grass and ground, without any urge to eat or speak. The relief did not come from the possibility that this could be our last pick up, but more from waiting weeks and weeks for this natural, inevitable change in seasons to happen.

Everything in the garden was frozen, even the plants under the heavy row covers. Brooke joined me, but we still did not speak, just walked and watched. Eventually I said, "if nothing recovers by 10am, we'll give out the last beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and call it a season".

By 10am all the plants were standing up tall and proud as if nothing happened. We harvested, ran the pick up, and checked off another week.