Harvesting


Each week Mother Nature throws us a new curve ball and we’ve gotten pretty good at keeping our cool when things get wild on the farm. South Central Wisconsin has had it’s share of severe storms and large volumes of rain this summer but last night’s event set itself apart from the rest. At 9:30pm last night the power on the farm went out which was only a minor inconvenience as long as the vegetable coolers stayed shut, which we made sure they did. The grand challenge came when the crew arrived this morning at 6:30am to pack over 800 CSA shares and the box packing room and walk-in coolers were as dark as caves. Out came headlamps and flashlights and luckily the power flickered back on by 7:30 and do we were could now move through the morning at our electricity-supported pace. When the aftermath of the storm settled down we were all able share our stories of downed trees, flooded roads, flooded basements and our exciting nights at home without power. The only frustrating carryover from the eventful storm was the technology fallout. I spent the majority of my morning trying to restore service to our internet and email server. But that is all part of the monumental undertaking of running a business in a rural area. We didn’t become vegetable farmers to seek out a simple way of life, and we sure do take humor in making the most of the endless challenges that the farm life sends our way.

On a lighter note, we got off to a great start with the garlic harvest on Tuesday and Wednesday! Over the coming week we will fit in the rest of the job whenever we can, harvesting a total of about a half acre of garlic. The garlic will be cured and stored in the upstairs of the barn and we will deliver it throughout the rest of the delivery season, saving about 20% back to plant for next year.

~Jonnah

Garlic growing out of straw mulch. The garlic looks beautiful this year!

Jesse and Casey pull garlic out and shake off the dirt from the roots.

Ryna with her garlic. She has been one of the crew members who has spent a lot of time out in the hot sun harvesting!

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.

We get asked that question every year and the answer is always the same: oh, just farming. The truth is that the farm doesn’t stop for national holidays. If we have a CSA delivery to get out, we work – so that would be 20 straight weeks June through October. Vegetables don’t take a vacation day so neither do we. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a little extra fun and show our patriotism in our own farmy way. While most of our CSA members were off  having cookouts and sipping cold beverages on boats, the farm crew was going about our average Tuesday business of harvest, planting, and packing shed work. At the end of the day the crew cracked open a few beers and set off some fireworks to celebrate along with the rest of our compatriots. On the flip side of the no-days-off coin are the winter months. While most of the world is going to work 5 days a week, we have discretion with our schedules. Winter means that the Perkins family holds down the farm in between multi-week vacations while the rest of the farm crew gets 2 months off. Although the vegetable farming schedule is polarized to the extreme, it’s a lifestyle we have come to love.

Jonnah

Sophal and Neing harvesting fennel before the heat sets in.

Tonny, Sophal, worker-share Matt, and Jesse harvesting Swiss Chard.

Yun, Tom, J-Mo, Eric, and Tonny toasting with Budweiser’s “America”  to celebrate the 4th of July (after work!).

Tom setting off some fireworks to celebrate the holiday!

 

Over the course of the past 23 years we’ve work hard to develop Vermont Valley Community Farm into a thriving certified organic vegetable farm and CSA. We have learned and grown and changed and consequently have a lot to share. We had the opportunity Wednesday to share our knowledge and experiences with a group of international farmers, representing six countries. Their areas of specialty were diverse and they had many interests and questions in common. We talked about business practices, community building, connecting with CSA members, nutrition, marketing, sustainability, family business, efficiency practices, equipment, financial sustainability, and much more. It was a little over an hour, but could have been a day. This was such a vibrant group of interesting and interested farmers. It was fun and rewarding to pull myself out of my daily grind and share what I do and what I know with this like-minded global community of farmers.

Barb

The Nuffield Scholars from Australia, Ireland, UK, Brazil, New Zealand, Netherlands

Garlic scape harvest. A scape gets snapped off of each garlic plant. This helps the plant put more energy into the bulb and gives us another edible part from the plant.

Kohlrabi harvest. The plant is pulled, the root snipped, the leaves removed. Then we take them to the packing shed to wash.

Salad mix, fennel and kohlrabi. Everything is so lush and beautiful with all of the rain we have had.

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

Yesterday was a gorgeous warm, overcast day as we harvested the last of the greens for the Spring Share. We experience beginning and ending three times as we prepare for, plant, harvest and deliver the different shares we offer. We divide our growing season into three seasons in order to give you, our members, choice. Early season greens, main season a bit of everything, late season roots.

Along with completing the harvest we also transitioned the hoophouse from a bounty of greens to a tomato house. The tomatoes had been planted alongside the greens, but not until we had all of the greens out and all of the weeds out and all of the trellis poles up could we see the impact of this transition. Then we layed the drip irrigation alongside each row of tomatoes. The tomatoes get watered from below and the greens got watered from above. The last thing we did before walking out was turn on the irrigation. There are already tomatoes on the plants!

Thank you so much for participating in our Spring Share season. You may not know this, but ALL of the vegetables we grow on this farm are delivered to you through our CSA (except potatoes which we also grow for our seed potato sales). Let your friends know that we still have CSA shares available for the rest of the season.

Barb

The last harvest from one of our hoophouses (the one we call “The Colossal”). The crops pictured are sauté mix and arugula.

Abigail and Eric harvesting lettuce heads between the rows of tomatoes.

Tonny and Eric (J-Mo) harvesting fennel.

Five hours later………No more vegetables or weeds! And the tomatoes are getting happily irrigated with the drip irrigation.

Another view of the tomatoes.

Rhubarb harvest in the smallest of our rhubarb beds.

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.

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