July 2011

What do farmers do when the heat index is 119 degrees?   Harvest vegetables.  We don’t get a day off because it’s the Fourth of July and we don’t get a day off because it’s hot .  If anything we are doing more harvesting because the vegetables are experiencing tremendous growth in all of this heat.  We drink a lot of water and take supplemental electrolyte tablets.  We sweat out gallons of water and work as fast as possible to get the vegetables out of the field and into the coolers.  Not only is this week special because of the record heat wave.  This week marks the transition between early season vegetables and summer vegetables.  As you know, the season began with a lot of greens (lettuce heads, salad mix, spinach, chard) and other early season vegetables (radishes, salad turnips, rhubarb, scallions, pearl onions, snap peas).  All of those early season vegetables like cool weather.  As the weather gets warmer those vegetables begin to show signs of stress.  The loose greens will bolt, which means they elongate and produce flowers and then seeds.  Radishes become very hot and woody and then bolt.  Many of those vegetable seeds won’t even germinate in soil that is too warm; those seeds were planted in April and May.  In May we also plant vegetables that take longer to mature than do the greens:  zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, and eggplant.  We tend to these vegetables for months; we mulch, weed, irrigate and trellis, put row cover fabric on them to keep insects off and remove row cover so the blossoms can be pollinated.  And then the week comes when we can begin to harvest them.

A bit exhausted after a hot morning of harvest, but we did it!!

Cooling down in some icy water after coming in from the fields

This week we began big harvests of cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes and green beans.  We harvest zucchini five days each week (we skip Thursday and one of the weekend days).  If we are not out there nearly every day the size of an individual zuc can double or triple.  That vegetable keeps us on our toes, or more accurately, keeps us in the zucchini patch.  As soon as cucumbers start to size up we keep a close eye on them, because all of a sudden they are ready.  We harvest cucumbers and tomatoes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  The tomatoes that we are harvesting now are growing in our hoophouse, a large greenhouse structure where we plant directly into the ground.  We do this so we can have a crop earlier than we could outside.  The outside tomatoes are beautiful, but it will be several weeks before we will begin to harvest them.  This week was the first of eight green bean harvests.  I think we will harvest the first eggplants next week.  Of course there are lots more summer vegetables on their way, I chose to highlight the ones that define the coming of the summer season.

You may have noticed a slightly smaller quantity of vegetables last week.  This seems to happen when the early season is winding down and the summer season is beginning.  Plan as we may, Mother Nature always has the final say.

Broccoli Harvest: Heather (worker share) pealing leaves from broccoli

Chris (worker share) loading broccoli into the truck

David cultivating beets. The cultivator scrapes out the weeds between rows. We then hand weed in the rows. Yea, lots of time spent keeping the crops weed free.


Check out this great opportunity to get your favorite original recipe published in new Madison Area CSA Coalition cookbook.  Information below:



Here are some great workshops to put on your calendar!

Cooking and food preservation workshops

The day began at 4:50 am, civil twilight it is called, just a glow of light about 35 minutes before sunrise.  I met our Cambodian crew in the yard.  We loaded 130 large black crates into a box truck and drove out to the field to harvest Swiss Chard.  By 7:15 we had harvested 1150 pounds of chard.  Then on to harvest pearl onions.  8440 pearl onions later and it was 10:00.  The crew took a short break to refuel and then joined us in the strawberry patch.  We usually have several work crews doing different jobs simultaneously.  At 8:00 four workers had gone out to harvest the first of the season’s zucchini while another group headed to the strawberry patch.  We harvested strawberries until 10:00 at which time the Cambodian crew joined the strawberry harvest so others of us could go harvest broccoli.  The broccoli had responded to the heat and grown like crazy over the weekend.  1756 heads of broccoli were harvested, loaded into another box truck and driven to the packing shed where they got hydro cooled (soaked in tubs of cold water to remove the field heat) then counted into crates, iced and put into the cooler.  Broccoli likes to be stored really cold.  A truck load of strawberries came in at noon. We carried the crates of berries to a cooler and then took a nice lunch break.  After lunch the Cambodian crew washed and banded chard and a crew of four transplanted basil, three varieties of basil for the Pesto Fest!  David and Jesse kept busy irrigating the crops today.  A lot of time goes into irrigation.   This beautiful recreational weather is a bit dry for the vegetables.  Today has been warm, sunny and productive, what more could we ask for.  Happy Fourth of July!

Broccoli Harvesters


The first zucchini of the season


Strawberry harvest; William and daughter Bella show off a beautiful quart


Washing and banding Swiss Chard


Transplanting four varieties of basil (Lemon, Lime, Red Rubin and Sweet Basil)


Irrigation gun watering crops (upper left) and transplanting (lower right)