June 2011

Details will follow, but to get right to the point: the Bad News is we will need to call off the Pea-Pick this year; the Good News is you will be getting peas in your share boxes.   Why the change?  The peas are maturing differently for us than in past years.  As many of you can recall from attending prior Pea-Picks, you are greeted with a jungle of pea vines loaded with plump sugar snap peas ready for the picking.

Prior year pea pick with members lost in the pea filled vines; this is what we plan for!

The peas we plant for the most part mature within a short time period which then allows us to invite all of you to the farm for a bountiful harvest.  This year the peas decided to be different.  We often don’t know for sure why plants behave as they do, but having done this vegetable thing for a lot of years now, we can take a pretty good guess.  We transplant our tall vining peas; they are planted in pots in the greenhouse, six seeds to a pot, and are planted into the field two weeks later.  We stake and trellis these peas so they grow 5 to 6 feet tall.  Their white flowers produce the pea fruits we all enjoy so much.

The flower that develops into your snap pea.


This spring was exceptionally cold, which we would have assumed would be fine for a cold loving crop like peas.  However, along with the cold came several late spring hard frosts.  The cold settles in our valley, when Madison gets a light frost, we are 10 degrees colder.  So those transplants were getting pretty tired of being walloped with 20 something degrees several times in a short time period.  They just sat there and waited for spring to settle down.  However, the time clock marched on and the pea flowers began to come on schedule but the vines had not had time to do their growing.  Below, you can see this year’s vines; although we’ve put in just as much work to make this plants grow, they are taking their sweet time.  You can see the maturing pea pods even though the vines are relatively short.  We expect (hope) the vines to continue to grow and produce, but over an extended time frame. 

This year’s pea vines struggling to grow tall.


Pea pods maturing on still growing vines.


As a trial, we also tried a different type of snap pea this year.  This pea variety grows only about 25 inches tall and is not trellised.   Turns out this was a bit opportune to have done this trial because these peas can supplement the harvest of the tall vining type we have planted in the past.  The “short” peas are doing quite well although we did not plant enough of these to pull off a pea pick with just them. 

Shorter style of pea variety.


Whenever things do not go as planned, regardless of the crop, the net result is more work for the farm.   Pea-Pick savvy members know that you are the pea harvest crew, meaning we keep a large portion of the harvested peas at the Pea-Pick for the following week’s delivery.  Well, no Pea-Pick means we do all the picking.  

We always learn something new each year.  We do our utmost to grow your food, but we also accept the limitations nature places on our efforts.  So, no Pea-Pick this year, but do enjoy the snap peas when they arrive in your share.


I really don’t want to dwell on the weather and how it impacts everything we do around here, so I will talk about electricity instead.  Electricity, or should I say the lack of it, has just as profound an impact on everything we do.   Today was one of those all-day rainy days.  The rain started at 3:00 am at which time I got up, went to my computer and checked the radar.  It looked like a gentle rain so back to bed I went.  The rain never let up until about 5:00 pm.  It’s Wednesday, one of our busiest days, so we had a fairly good sized crew, 23 workers all morning.  The harvest was all in, and nothing else was pressing enough to go outside and work for 4 hours in the rain and mud.  Luckily there was plenty to do in the packing shed.  We washed and banded rhubarb and scallions (9 people for 6 hours); we banded garlic scapes (2.5 hours for another 9 people).  Three people kept busy bagging spinach.  Then we broke into all of the stacked up cleaning jobs – washing dirty styrofoam planting flats, delivery totes and strawberry containers.  A few people did get to put on full rain gear and go out to plant hot pepper plants and melon seeds.  We ate lunch in the greenhouse because it was dry.  Our afternoon started out with potato bagging.  Then poof, at 1:30 we lost power.  For no apparent reason, just gone.  All became very quiet.  We are used to the background noise of compressors and evaporators that run our coolers, the compressor that powers our pneumatic bagging scale.  We can hear the fans in the greenhouse moving air and the hum of the computer in the barn office.  It all stopped.  Silence is wonderful, unless it signals something wrong.  This silence was wrong. We couldn’t open our coolers or we would let precious cool air escape and if we did need to go in we wore a headlamp to see in the pitch darkness.  We couldn’t continue using the bagger to bag the potatoes; we couldn’t do all of our essential Wednesday office work.  No computer, no voice mail, no internet, no water.  But we had to get as much work done as possible.  We have one table scale that runs with batteries, so the potatoes could get bagged.  We had just filled up a 100 gallon tub of water to wash the strawberry containers, so that became our only source of water for the rest of the day.  It was odd and a bit eerie.  It’s now 6:30 pm, I’m typing on a lap top, still no power.  Black Earth Electric says they’re working on it.  

Early morning scallion harvest - Tuesday


Deb and Leah got to go out and plant peppers in the rain and mud - Wednesday


Deb and Joel potting up your basil plant

Welcome to Vermont Valley Community Farm’s 17th season!   It means a lot to us to know who is eating the food we grow.  This farm was established in 1994 by David and Barb Perkins and our three children, who at the time were in grade school.  Now, 17 years later our sons Jesse, age 30, Eric, age 28 and Jesse’s wife, Jonnah all help run the farm.   The first season we delivered 50 shares each week.  This season we are delivering just over 1200 shares each week.  The support of the community of eaters has made this farm what it is today.  We look forward to a bountiful season.  Thanks for your support.

Vermont Valley Community Farm farmers


Pictured is the 2011 full time staff:

(left to right) David and Barb Perkins, still having fun after all these years; Chris Klaeser, crew leader and general fix-it guy; Deb English, crew leader and everyone’s mom; Jesse Perkins, usually seen riding a tractor or dealing with irrigation; Jonnah Perkins, Office Manager and go-to girl; Eric Perkins, Packing Shed Manager, silent and steady; Clara Murphy, awesome part time employee and (sitting in front) Cari Stebbins, the incredible Vermont Valley Community Farm cook.

It seems the weather has been fairly eventful this season so far.  And now this (crazy hot) week!  As farmers, our lives revolve around the weather and of course we do the best we can with it.  Monday morning, in an attempt to beat the heat, we were out harvesting salad mix at 5:45 am.  We finished salad mix harvest by 8:30; then we began spinach harvest.  At 10:00 I called off the spinach harvest, to be continued at 5:00am Tuesday.  It was getting too hot to continue harvesting spinach.  I guess we were only able to beat the heat for a few hours.  We moved over to radish harvest, they can handle the heat better than tender spinach leaves.  By 11:00 we had finished the radish harvest and were able to head into the packing shed (shade) to wash (cold water) and band the radishes.  Ahhhhh, spraying radishes and dipping them into 100 gallon tubs of water sure was a welcome follow up activity. 

Now it’s Tuesday and maybe we are getting used to the heat because it didn’t feel as brutal this morning as it did yesterday.  Today we started at 5:00am (you know it is light enough to see spinach at that time) and were back in the packing shed by 11:00 to enjoy washing and bunching turnips. 

Staying shaded while harvesting rhubarb or is it rhubarb fashion?


Washing and banding turnips.


This afternoon salad mix got bagged and spinach got washed. 

We wash our salad mix and spinach in a special greens washer.  This is the process:

Eric places the freshly harvested greens onto a conveyor.


The greens (spinach in this picture) tumble from the conveyor into a tub of water. The gentle streams of water push them into the water.


The greens travel on the plastic conveyor up and down and in and out of the water three times, giving the greens a triple wash. Then the greens slide down the chute into a waiting basket.


The basket gets placed into a giant salad spinner for one minute and then emptied into a crate.


We have been irrigating our fields non-stop over the past few days.   Vegetables require a lot of water.   It has been very hot, dry and windy so it is up to us to give your vegetables the water they need.   On the farm we have several types of irrigation systems.  Pictured below is one of our ‘traveling irrigation guns’.

Irrigating sweet corn


What did we do last week when there was not a vegetable delivery?

Transplanting watermelon


Transplanting winter squash


Trellising sugar snap peas