As I did my early morning tour of the crops last Thursday morning it became urgently inevitable that the first delivery couldn’t wait. The vegetables were growing before our very eyes and our only option was to harvest them a week earlier than planned. When the full time crew arrived Thursday morning they joined David and me outside of the greenhouse to discuss the reality of the situation. We no longer had a week to prepare and organize before the first delivery; we were just going to do it now! We kicked into high gear (or maybe ‘higher gear’ is more appropriate). We have done many deliveries and have 17 seasons behind us, we knew what needed to be done and our new employees were going to learn quickly. The plan was laid, the packing shed cleaned and we had Monday to look forward to. Several of us spent the weekend at computers. I’m not sure what other people did on Memorial Day, but I took a few pictures to show you what we did.
Harvesting Radishes. Salad mix in the foreground.
Salad Mix Washing:
We layer the different varieties of cut lettuce onto a conveyor. The conveyor gives it a ride to the water.
The lettuces dropping into the tub of water.
A conveyor continues to move the lettuces through 3 tubs of water, up and down like a roller coaster, getting sprayed the entire way. The spray helps it circulate it through he water. It is here that it becomes ‘salad mix’; the lettuce varieties become all mixed together.
The salad mix drops into a large basket. The basket gets placed into a giant ‘salad spinner’. The spun salad mix and is then dumped into waiting crates. We weigh it all, divide by the number of bags we will fill and get to work bagging salad mix.
We did more on Memorial Day that isn’t photo documented. We harvested turnips. Then we washed and bunched the turnips. The picture would look similar to the radish washing table, except turnips are white. Then we washed potatoes.
The next two days were similar. Tuesday brought lettuce head harvest and washing. We harvested and washed spinach. The spinach is washed the same as the salad mix. We bagged salad mix and began to bag spinach. We harvested rhubarb.
Wednesday started with scallion harvest, washing and banding. We finished bagging spinach, banded rhubarb and bagged potatoes.
We squeezed in several other tasks during the week. Celeriac, lettuce heads and cucumbers were transplanted. Several crops were seeded into flats in the greenhouse. The phone rang and e-mails poured in.
When we left the packing shed Wednesday evening all of the produce for the delivery was neatly bagged and bunched and tucked into a cooler. The containers will be all lined up ready to be filled with produce for shares.
Thursday morning we will pack up 1185 shares, load them into 4 trucks and drive around the city delivering shares to all of you. Thanks for letting us do this for you!
A lot of them is the plan. Our plan is to deliver sweet corn to you eight times this season. We transplant and also direct seed the corn. I am sure you all are familiar with ‘direct seed’; it simply means the seed is sown directly into the ground and the corn grows. But we put a twist on growing sweet corn. Our first four plantings of sweet corn are started in the greenhouse. We do this by planting seeds in flats and when the corn plant is big enough we ‘transplant’ it into the field. We simply pull the (13,440) corn plants from the flats and plant them into the field. We do this so we can be guaranteed good germination and a good plant stand. As certified organic farmers we do not use seed treated with a chemical to preventing it from rotting in cold wet (spring) soil. We can not risk loosing our entire planting of corn because the seed rotted in the field, so we start the seeds in the greenhouse.
Flats filled with soil, waiting to be seeded with sweet corn. There are 70 flats each with 192 cells which means 13,440 sweet corn plants! Each plant yields one ear of corn.
Our Cambodian crew putting one seed in each cell.
Sweet corn transplants ready to be planted into the field.
And then there’s potatoes, lots of potatoes.
David (driving the tractor) and Jesse (sitting on the potato planter) planting potatoes in our field near Arena.
That’s a lot of spuds! They are under that beautiful soil. Soon they will emerge.
And then there’s melons. We grow watermelon and cantaloupe. We start the plants in the greenhouse and transplant them out into the field.
A group of worker share members came out to the farm on Saturday for an orientation and spent part of that time planting cantaloupe seeds into flats. These cantaloupe plants will be transplanted into the fields in a couple of weeks.
We stay really, really busy in the greenhouse and out in the field during May. We will continue to post pictures of what we are up to in the fields.
And just what do we mean by everything? We start new transplants in the greenhouse every week. Next week we will be starting 23,800 plants. That means we put 23,800 seeds into 1”x1”cells. We have been starting thousands of plants every week since March and will continue to do so into July.
As our little seeds grow into plants, they need to be planted into the fields. This week we are scheduled to plant 16,900 plants into the fields. I say scheduled because the wet fields and rain have messed with the plan. We got 6,700 of the transplants in on Tuesday night between 6 and 8 pm. A big thank you to the crew who stayed to help! We couldn’t begin earlier because we were waiting as long as possible for the fields to dry out and two tractors and tractor drivers were busy planting seed potatoes in the ground. They managed to plant 12,000 pounds of potatoes between 7 am and 6 pm. Only then could we begin transplanting the fennel and lettuce. We stopped at sunset and will work the other transplants into the schedule as weather permits. We had one day as a window for planting this wee, not enough time!
We have the help of some efficient machines when it comes to transplanting and planting. People ride on the transplanters and handle each plant individually, but the machines do the planting work. This is true for many plants. But onions, for example were planted one at a time, by hand. 44,500 of them. I could go on and on about plants, but I think you get the picture. It consumes many hours of our time.
As plants live in the fields they need to be cared for. This means different things for different plants. Some plants need to be covered with a light weight row cover so insects don’t devour them. All plants need weeding, either mechanically with a cultivator or by hand. Tomatoes need to be trellised. Peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes get mulched with straw, tons of straw! Soil needs to be prepared for planting and cover crops get planted where there will not be vegetables growing this season; for fertility, erosion control and soil conditioning.
And then there’s harvest. Our Spring Share began last week and we need to harvest, wash, bag, pack and deliver all of those yummy greens.
The entire farm is one big 500 piece puzzle this time of year. There are about 500 things to do and we need to arrange them in the correct order based on weather, time of day, day of the week and number of crew we have on a given day. A plan can be written on paper but we have to be ready to re-write it multiple times, bearing in mind that it all gets done, maybe just in a different order.
So I guess this time of year can be looked at as one big juggling act with many balls in the air. If one drops we pick it up and figure out where can best fit back in.
A few pictures from last week’s Spring Share harvest:
Ramp harvest in the woods (Kari and Toni)
Watercress harvest (Chad)
Jesse and Baby Paavo heading out to get some tractor work done
Little did David know when he bought a tractor with a fold down seat (we always called it the “girlfriend seat”) that the youngest Perkins farmer would be getting all of his lessons about tractors while accompanying his dad.
Harvest in the hoophouse
A sea of pepper and eggplant transplants in the greenhouse
Cabbage and kohlrabi transplants waiting to be planted into the field
Broccoli transplants in the greenhouse
Dear Friends, Colleagues, and CSA Enthusiasts, Please join us in celebration of Wisconsin’s pioneering Community Supported Agriculture movement and the individuals, communities, and spirit that inspires us all.
As you may have heard, this is a special anniversary year; we’re celebrating 20 years of CSA in Southern Wisconsin. 20 years of serving up fresh food from local farms and 20 years of local community and economic development (with a side dish of health and environmental stewardship!).
To mark this historic milestone year, please join us on Sunday, May 6th at 6PM at Graze Pub for our CSA Pioneers Dinner. A delicious four course meal shared with friends, CSA members, and farmers.
Tickets are $50, all proceeds benefit FairShare CSA Coalition’s (yes, we’ve changed our name from MACSAC, Madsion Area CSA Coalition!) local food, grower, and community programs.
For reservations please call Graze: 608.251.2700
CSA Pioneers Dinner Program Welcome – Kiera Mulvey, FairShare Executive Director Appetizers Looking back with John Hendrickson, farmer, CIAS Staff, and founding organizer of Madison Eaters Revolutionary Front…Madison Area CSA Coalition…MACSAC….FairShare! First Course Reflections on a CSA member experience– Richard DeWilde, Harmony Valley Farm & 20 year Harmony Valley CSA members John & Leslie Taylor Main Course The Farm Life – Barb Perkins tells the story of Vermont Valley Community Farm’s founding and evolution into a successful, community-focused CSA farm Desert Looking Forward – Closing remarks from John Hendrickson