Fields


What happens when it is really hot in September? The vegetables just keep growing as if it’s still summer. Planning for a balanced CSA box is a skill that we have been perfecting for many years. We keep accurate records of yields and varieties and weather and use that information as we plan for the next season. We do pretty well. And then we get a September like this one and get results we didn’t plan for. Not that it’s a bad thing, it just isn’t the balance we had planned for, and there’s barely room in the share box for it all. For example, broccoli. We plant all of our fall broccoli in one big broccoli patch. When cool fall weather occurs, as it does most Septembers, the broccoli slowly matures and holds well in the field. When summer weather happens, the broccoli all matures at once and we have to harvest it because it won’t hold in the field in the heat. Last Friday we harvested over 2000 heads of broccoli. And that was after harvesting on Monday and Wednesday also. Hence, you will get lots of broccoli in your box this week. We really didn’t plan for or expect this hot weather. Another example, tomatoes. We are harvesting field tomatoes two weeks past any other year and experiencing a huge yield with very little disease. Tomatoes like hot weather. Disease thrives in wet weather and it has been very dry. So if you like tomatoes, this is your year. Enjoy the bounty of this week’s share. It has been a busy week on the farm!

Barb

Bringing in a load of broccoli, the most prolific crop on the farm this week! In addition to all of the broccoli we put into your CSA boxes, we also donated about 250 heads to Goodman Community Center.

Kale harvest. The crew harvests and bands the kale stems; then Barb packs the bunches into crates in the truck.

Bringing in the Carnival squash. We harvest into bins and Jesse drives the bins to the packing shed.

Fall equinox tomorrow. Ninety degrees, warmer than any day in August. It’s a unique time of year on the farm when summer collides with fall, meaning the summer crops are winding down and the fall crops are ramping up and we are delivering both. But this year’s collision seems more extreme than most. August was such a cool month that some of the crops slowed down, now many of them are picking back up again. Peppers reddening like crazy, summer squash still going strong, broccoli growing before our very eyes, all of the fall greens getting super big and beautiful.

We harvested more summer squash this week than last while also delivering winter squash, our eggplant harvest was much bigger than the last one, outside tomatoes are still producing (they were finished by this time last year). It’s dark at 6:30am but warmer than some August mornings when we were already outside harvesting. Until last evening’s brief rain, it has been so dry that we have been irrigating. Believe it or not, it is not unusual to get our first frost right about now. What can I say, we take what we get and make the most of it. Think I’ll go swimming after work.

Barb

On Wednesday Dream Lens Media spent the morning on the farm gathering film and photography for various projects. They did a great job capturing the energy of our morning!

Last sweet corn harvest of the season. photo: Dream Lens Media

The harvest crew putting corn on the conveyor. (Jesse, Yun, J-Mo) photo: Dream Lens Media

Jonnah and Sophal counting corn as it drops into the corn wagon. Photo: Dream Lens Media

The scary eyes leaving the field. These giant balls were successful in keeping the birds from pecking at our corn. Photo: Dream Lens Media

Cooling down the broccoli after bringing it in from the field. photo: Dream Lens Media

A crate of delicata squash as it was packed in the field. photo: Eric Friedricks

When we were asked by Madison Magazine to host a farm-to-table event on the farm we immediately responded with an enthusiastic YES! We work hard all week getting vegetables harvested, washed, packed, and delivered for the CSA, so when a super organized event planning production offers to throw a party on your farm and do all the work, we can’t just can’t say no. Madison Magazine teamed up with One Barrel Brewing Company, Liliana’s Restaurant, and several other sponsors, to put together a Beermosa Brunch, complete with beer pairings that complimented each coarse.

So after a long week at the end of July, all of the Vermont Valley farmers got to join nearly 200 guests to enjoy our food exquisitely prepared by Chef Dave Heide, listen to fabulous blues played by the Madtown Mannish Boys and taste several One Barrel beers under a big white tent in our yard. Other than cleaning up all of the sticks that fell out of the trees during the wild storms last week and leading a few farm tours, all we had to do was provide the vegetables.

Jonnah

Brunch in the orchard with a view of the valley

Touring the farm fields with Barb (you may not recognize her, she has on a black dress and isn’t wearing her farm cap)

A stacked list of sponsors were part of the Farm-to-Feast brunch!

Barb talking beer and farming with One Barrel owner, Peter Gentry, and his wife Jennifer.

 

 

Yes, it has been a very rainy season. And vegetables are happy and thriving! The rain pattern has been a bit unusual. Small isolated storms have been passing through and popping up. Where they hit and how much rain they drop is extremely variable in a relatively small area. We did not get the 4+ inches of rain Sunday night, as the west side of Madison did. We got less than 2 inches. For that we were thankful. We did get more rain Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Vegetables love water. They need water to grow and thrive. We have deep, rich soils on this farm that can absorb lots of water. We have a lovely wetland and stream where excess water finds it way. It is very, very unusual to have standing water in our fields. While the vegetables and weeds are happily growing, the people and mostly the vehicles have a difficult time getting into the fields to work. We do more walking and use vehicles that hopefully won’t get stuck, like tractors. When we aren’t harvesting vegetables we are pulling weeds! Rubber boots and rain pants get lots of use.

Barb

Looking down at my boots as my feet slowly sink into the wet soil; harvesting salad mix.

Salad mix harvest. We waited until Tuesday morning so the ground could firm up a bit. Not only is it hard to walk in such muddy conditions, it is not good for the beds of vegetables.

After lettuce head harvest we turned to next week’s bed to rid it of weeds. Weeds will out-compete the lettuce heads and cause the lettuce to stretch towards the light. Weeds also inhibit air flow, causing rotting leaves at the bottom of the plant. And weeding is so satisfying!

Cabbage harvest. We were able to use the tractor to transport the bins of cabbage. The tractor could easily get through the field after the rains.

I’m talking about rainfall and irrigation time. One nice rainfall eliminates about forty hours of labor irrigating the crops. It was getting really dry in the fields. David and Jesse were working from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, moving irrigation guns (a traveling gun is a big real with a water spray that moves up the field) from crop to crop, letting them run their course and then moving them to the next area of the field. This can mean the difference between keeping a crop alive or watching it suffer in the heat and dry conditions, but it is hard to keep up.  Our fields are geographically spread out. The irrigation is moved with a tractor. Each run can take up to 8 hours. The settings are coordinated with how much water needs to be distributed. When it is 90 degrees and windy and it hasn’t rained in many days and everything is looking parched, this is a huge task. Mother Nature can deliver this to all of the vegetables at once in one rainfall. So when the sky opened up and gave us about an inch of rain on Monday night, we could give a sigh of relief. The thirsty crops were very happy and Jesse and David could focus their attention on other tasks in need of their time.

Harvesting salad mix on Tuesday morning after the glorious rain!

Eric (standing) needed to remove his shoes because they were sinking in the mud. Behind Eric is some irrigation equipment. On Tuesday afternoon, before it rained, we were irrigating this field because we had just transplanted new salad mix and it needed water. We turned off the irrigation when it started to rain.

Green garlic harvest. After we pull the garlic from the earth, we trim the leaves. Then the big task of spraying off the dirt.

Jesse pulling the irrigation gun out from the reel

Irrigating cabbage

As I drove around the farm today, I was completely taken by its beauty. The air is heavy, waiting for rain to fall. The spring green on the hillside is soft and gentle. And the fields are full of promise. The peas were standing in beautiful rows of bright green. The potatoes are under the ground, covered by hills. The plastic mulch has been laid, waiting for squash to be planted. The greenhouse is bursting with transplants; each week thousands of plants are transplanted outside and thousands more are started. So much new life, so much promise. I feel fortunate to be able to immerse myself in such a cycle of life.

Barb

The farm road into one of our fields. Ahead are peas and to the right under the hills of soil are potatoes.

The peas. These peas were started in the greenhouse and transplanted into the field. We do this to guarantee a solid stand of peas. If we plant the peas directly into the ground and then there is a lot of cold, wet conditions, many of the seeds will rot. (We are certified organic; we don’t use fungicide treated seeds as the chemical agriculture farms do).

Plastic mulch, just laid. We use plastic mulch for many heat loving crops. The plants get planted directly into the plastic. We mulch the bare dirt heavily with alfalfa hay. Irrigation hose runs under the plastic. The plastic acts as a weed barrier and holds the moisture in.

Rhubarb harvest for the Spring Share.

It was in August of 1994 that David and I started this farm. Jesse, our oldest, was 13, now he has two kids. The passage of time is interesting. But right now I am looking back on this season and all that it brought us. It was in general a challenging growing season. Not that every season doesn’t come with challenges, they do. We accept what comes our way and do the best we can with it. This season was rainy. Rain is good, don’t get me wrong. We need it. We love it and too much of it can cause problems. One good rain will irrigate the whole farm and no rain means up to 40 hours of work for one person running irrigation. This year we got rain and humidity and hot weather all bundled up. Microorganisms love it and it is the perfect host for disease and fungus. We deal with plant disease every year. Mostly it is minor and has very little effect on the final product. When something shows up that we have never seen before we take our plant matter to the UW Plant Diagnostic Lab to find out what it is. We had a new one this year that infected our melons, squashes, cucumbers and pumpkins. Yikes! That’s acres of food. David was able to spray an organically approved material to stop the spread of this disease, although it had done a bit too much damage in a few crops already. We had a very small melon crop and lost our zucchini earlier than usual, thankfully our other summer squash did quite well.  The other effected crops fared well.

Then there are the animals that live all around the farm and love that we plant vegetables for them. Turkeys, Sandhill cranes and deer are a particular nuisance. Deer eat lettuce heads and beans so we put up 8 foot fencing around these crops. It kept the deer out of the lettuce but there were some high jumpers in our bean field. When we realized they were still getting in, we re-worked the fence. They still got in and ate beans. The turkeys pulled up oodles of small beet plants and were responsible for the lack of corn stalks at the pumpkin pick. Pulled up all of the young corn plants two times! And the Sandhill cranes love sweet corn. Their tall height is perfect for walking through sweet corn and pecking the tops of the ears of corn. I think there were three cranes living in our sweet corn this year, because they were always there!

The excess of rain was spectacular. We had a flood like none I or the neighbors had ever seen. It subsided quickly and our wetland did its job by holding water and raising up to look like a lake. Many of the fields were left saturated. The carrots had some tip rot because they didn’t like all of the water. There were times we couldn’t get into the fields with any vehicle but a tractor. This put an interesting twist to harvest since we usually use our 16 foot box trucks and one of our pickup trucks for harvest.  Again, we had to get creative.

The hot days and extended season allowed us to harvest some crops longer than usual. Our first frost didn’t come until last night, weeks later than usual. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant just kept coming and we harvested nearly every fruit from these plants. The winter squash was possibly our best crop ever. Broccoli had some disease but just kept coming. The sweet potatoes were definitely our best ever.

Each season has its highs and lows, fantastic crop yields and some disappointments. That’s why we grow 50 different vegetables; if one isn’t as great as hoped another is. Thank you to all of you for supporting our farm and eating with the seasons. It’s a fun adventure and we all look forward to whatever next season brings.

Barb

The summer flood that brought a lot of rain to our valley.

The summer flood that brought a lot of rain to our valley.

The tractor in the broccoli field ready for harvest. We couldn’t drive the trucks into the field since they were too wet. Note the dark sky, looks like more rain on it’s way.

The tractor in the broccoli field ready for harvest. We couldn’t drive the trucks into the field since they were too wet. Note the dark sky, looks like more rain on it’s way.

Amazing eggplant!

Amazing eggplant!

Bountiful squash!

Bountiful squash!

Incredible sweet potatoes.

Incredible sweet potatoes.

 

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