May 2013


WEDNESDAY, MAY 28:  Today it is 52 degrees, overcast, drizzling and fairly miserable; typical for “Spring” Year 2013.  As always the farm adjusts to the weather, not the other way around.  Spring has been winter this year, the exact opposite of 2012 when we already had summer weather in March.

This year’s “Spring” has determined that your vegetable season will begin a week later than our planned date, and will continue for the normal 20 week season, thereby ending a week later.  The cool, I mean cold, weather has been just fine for some of our early season plantings of lettuce, spinach, radishes and turnips.  They are growing slowly, but look great.  The warm season crops have mostly been planted on schedule but have not really appreciated the temperatures.  I looked at the first planting of cucumbers and melons yesterday and you can tell by their sort of snarly look it has been way too chilly.  They need more time to mature and the extra week delay will do them good.

It is a challenge every year to bridge the changeover from cool season early crops to the warm loving tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, sweet corn….   Our goal is to keep your CSA box bountiful every week and the delayed startup will hopefully be enough to give the warm season crops a chance to catch up.  The bounty is always delivered to you every year; the trick is to spread it out so you are neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed with produce in a particular week.

We look forward to harvesting your first box of delicious, local, organic produce.  So here’s to warmer weather, gentle rains and a great growing season here at Vermont Valley Community Farm.

David

We spent Wednesday transplanting tomatoes.  Here comes the big number: 3,696 tomato plants got put into the ground.  That represents 28 different varieties of tomatoes.  A mix of big red slicers, roma tomatoes, small colorful ‘salad’ tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.  We also planted a couple thousand pepper plants.  The job was going to be continued today with the rest of the peppers, all of the eggplants, cantaloupe and watermelon, but the weather forecast is not in our favor.  Instead of going out into the fields with more plants, we are going out with fabric row cover to protect the tomato and pepper plants from frost.  We knew it was going to be cold tonight, but the prediction got even colder after we were finished planting.  Such is spring in Wisconsin and particularly in our low valley, where frost loves to settle.  The tomatoes in the hoophouses continue to be happy.  They are putting on their first flowers; those flowers will turn into fruit!  We will more easily be able to frost protect them by making sure the heaters kick on to keep the air temperature at about 40 degrees.

Then there are the strawberries which are flowering.  The first flowers turn into ‘king berries’, the largest berries the plant produces.  If we lose the first flowers, we lose the biggest berries.  So we will frost irrigate the strawberries.  Frost irrigation works by preventing the plant from a sudden thaw when the sunrise brings the temperature in the valley up too quickly.  The irrigation will be set to spray the berries, but a human will have to be watching the temperature and go out to turn on the sprinklers at just the right time (some wee hour of the morning) and make sure all is working as planned.  Jesse and David will be flipping a coin for that job!

Tonni, Weng and Ching planting tomato plants that have been placed onto the plastic mulch by the people riding on the water wheel transplanter.  The plastic mulch keeps the ground warm, weed free and moist.  An irrigation hose runs under the plastic.  The straw mulch between the beds keeps the weeds suppressed.

Tonni, Weng and Ching planting tomato plants that have been placed onto the plastic mulch by the people riding on the water wheel transplanter. The plastic mulch keeps the ground warm, weed free and moist. An irrigation hose runs under the plastic. The straw mulch between the beds keeps the weeds suppressed.

Paul and Elisabeth setting the plants out, playing close attention to varieties.  The big green wheel pokes a hole through the plastic and fills the hole with water.  There is a hose inside of the wheel that sends out a continual spray of water.  The water gets channeled into the holes. The yellow tanks are full of water.

Paul and Elisabeth setting the plants out, playing close attention to varieties. The big green wheel pokes a hole through the plastic and fills the hole with water. There is a hose inside of the wheel that sends out a continual spray of water. The water gets channeled into the holes. The yellow tanks are full of water.

Jesse setting up strawberry frost irrigation.  Better to be standing in the water  now than at 3:00 am!

Jesse setting up strawberry frost irrigation. Better to be standing in the water now than at 3:00 am!

Many people involved with the final spring share harvest in the hoophouse.  The crops being harvested are scallions, fennel, lettuce heads, escarole, dandelions, salad mix and saute mix.

Many people involved with the final spring share harvest in the hoophouse. The crops being harvested are scallions, fennel, lettuce heads, escarole, dandelions, salad mix and saute mix.

Barb

That is, from greens to tomatoes.  This is the time of year the hoophouses begin their annual transition.  Greens for the spring share get planted in March, followed by little tomato plants in April, planted right next to the greens.  The tomato plants grow side by side with the greens.  As the greens are harvested the tomato plants get more room.  Yesterday was the day we decided they were getting so big that they needed support, so trellising went in. It’s only too bad that there really isn’t red on those plants yet for our salads.  Soon!

Brian and Chris pounding in fence posts for the trellis support.

Brian and Chris pounding in fence posts for the trellis support.

The trellising is up.  We made tomato trellises from pvc pipe.  The pipe slides over the fence posts.

The trellising is up. We made tomato trellises from pvc pipe. The pipe slides over the fence posts.

A close up view of tomato plants next to a salad mix bed.

A close up view of tomato plants next to a salad mix bed.

And now everything gets watered.

And now everything gets watered.

Watercress harvest in a spring-fed stream on the farm. (from left) Eric and Elisabeth, full time employees, cut the watercress while standing on a pallet so they don’t sink into the mud, while Cathy and Michelle, two worker shares, band the watercress.

Watercress harvest in a spring-fed stream on the farm. (from left) Eric and Elisabeth, full time employees, cut the watercress while standing on a pallet so they don’t sink into the mud, while Cathy and Michelle, two worker shares, band the watercress.

And we are making the most of it.  There hasn’t even been rain or snow to stop us!  The week began on Saturday with a worker share orientation.  Part of this farm’s labor comes from worker shares, members who work four hours each week for their share.  This year 40 worker shares will be helping us out.  As part of the orientation we planted squash seeds into pots.  13,600 seeds got planted into 4,536 pots (3 seeds per pot).  Fifteen of us completed the job in less than 2 hours, the power of many hands!

The biggest job of the week was potato planting.  David and Jesse spent Monday and Tuesday in the potato field preparing the ground.  On Wednesday and Thursday Chris accompanied them and they planted 15,000 pounds of potatoes on 6 acres.  15 different varieties.  We have a machine to help us plant the potatoes into the ground but many days were spent cutting potatoes into pieces (a piece of a potato is the seed).  Many pounds will be delivered to our CSA members this season and in addition many pounds will be sold to other farms as certified seed.  Our farm is certified by the state of WI to grow seed potatoes.  And since we are also certified organic we sell most of our seed to organic farms.

Of course we also spent time this week in the greenhouse planting seeds and tending to plants and transplanting plants outside and harvesting vegetables for this week’s spring share delivery.

It’s been a good week!

Planting potatoes. Jesse is driving the tractor and Chris is riding on the planter, keeping watch to make sure everything is working properly.

All of these seeds in all of these pots will become lots and lots of squash!

All of these seeds in all of these pots will become lots and lots of squash!

Ramp harvest.  The forest floor is covered with ramps, all of the green that you see on the forest floor is ramps!  Thousands of them.  We dig them in clusters, separate them from the soil and count them into crates.

Ramp harvest. The forest floor is covered with ramps, all of the green that you see on the forest floor is ramps! Thousands of them. We dig them in clusters, separate them from the soil and count them into crates.

Ramp cleaning.  Then we bring them back to the packing shed to spray them clean, band them together and dip them into a big tub of water.  Yum, they will sure taste good!

Ramp cleaning. Then we bring them back to the packing shed to spray them clean, band them together and dip them into a big tub of water. Yum, they will sure taste good!

Jesse said it well this morning, “We’ve just hit the crazy time of year.  I’m disking one field so it dries out and irrigating another field.”  Yes, it does feel a bit crazy around here.  Our planting schedule said that on April 15 we were supposed to go out into the fields with 40,128 plants (onions, scallions, chives, escarole, lettuce, sorrel) and we were supposed to seed thousands of row feet of spinach, radish, salad mix, carrots and turnips.  But…it was cold, rainy, snowy and the fields were saturated.  So, we hunkered down in our greenhouse and kept planting seeds into flats (a typical flat holds 192 plants).  Soon the greenhouse was bursting at the seams.  These plants needed to go out!  We got creative and used every square inch of space in that 1500 square foot greenhouse of ours.  Finally last Thursday it happened!  The fields (some of them) were dry enough for us to plant into.  We have been planting every day since then.  39,000 onion plants got planted by hand!  We used the help of a machine to plant 2,700 lettuce heads, 4,600 cabbage plants, 6,530 broccoli plants, 13,500 leeks and on and on and on…  Simultaneously, Jesse and David have been tilling fields and spreading compost.  And the craziest thing, we have been irrigating!  The warm winds and sun over the past few days have dried off the top of the soil, and that’s where the moisture is needed for the new seeds to germinate and plants to establish their roots.  We have irrigated all of the new seeding and the lettuce plants.  Yesterday and today we harvested, washed and bagged vegetables for the first Spring Share!! The spring share vegetables have been growing happily in two hoophouses (large greenhouses where we plant directly into the ground).  They also got planted about 2 weeks late because the outside temperatures were so cold the plants would have frozen, even inside their plastic house.  We do have a supplemental heat source, but it is not intended to heat these huge spaces for 2 weeks.  We rely on the heat of the sun to warm these plastic structures, but when the sun doesn’t shine for days on end, the hoophouses don’t get warm.  Ah, Wisconsin.  I am not complaining in the least, I rather expect each season to be different and extremes are not unusual.  I thought I would just share with you a snapshot of our weather dependent life style.  Enjoy your freshly harvested greens!  (and if you read this and don’t get a Spring Share and wish you did, contact us and you can get in on the next 3 weeks).

Transplanting scallions.  Three people put plants into the rotating black cups, the plants drop down a chute, get gently pressed into the ground by disks and then get watered.

Transplanting scallions. Three people put plants into the rotating black cups, the plants drop down a chute, get gently pressed into the ground by disks and then get watered.

The irrigation boom just finished watering carrot seeds, escarole and fennel plants. The white row cover (on the left) is pinned on top of the carrot seeds to help keep them moist until they germinate.  Then it gets rolled off and re-used, likely to keep insects off another crop.

The irrigation boom just finished watering carrot seeds, escarole and fennel plants. The white row cover (on the left) is pinned on top of the carrot seeds to help keep them moist until they germinate. Then it gets rolled off and re-used, likely to keep insects off another crop.

Caring for the hoophouse: weeding

Caring for the hoophouse: weeding

Harvesting spinach, one leaf at a time

Harvesting spinach, one leaf at a time

Barb