Harvesting


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

August into September is all about tomatoes. I look forward to the tomato rush all year, which is good because we can’t escape it. Our workdays, weekends, and meals are based on tomatoes. To be honest, there are some vegetables I grow tired of, but tomatoes are not one of them. With the broad spectrum of colors and textures of tomatoes we grow, I am fully engaged from first blush until the first frost takes them down. Then I am left with a bit of sadness in my tomato loving heart.

Tomatoes are harvested Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we wash and count tomatoes two ways a week, and we hold tomato u-pick events for our CSA members on the weekend. That’s five days a week of tomatoes! To further our passion for tomatoes, we work with a seed breeder from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Emily Haga a former employee, to trial new varieties in development. Our CSA members get to try new varieties that will hit the seed market in future seasons.

Being the end of August, we are up to our necks in tomatoes, and we are perfectly happy with it.

Jonnah

CSA members: Tomato U-Pick info!

Emily Haga, from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, visiting from Maine to sample some tomato trials we grew for her research.

Currently being harvested, from top row, left to right: Chef’s Choice, Red Zebra, Pink Beauty, Garden Peach, Estiva. Damsel, Japanese Trifele Black, Wisconsin 55, Martha Washington. Orange Banana, Arbason, Be Orange, Pink Boar.

Cherry tomatoes are pouring in by the crateful!

Crates of tomatoes stacked up in the back of the truck. All varieties are separated until we bag them for the CSA delivery.

We have a pattern and routine this time of year. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning we start out harvesting tomatoes in the hoophouse, harvesting zucchini and yellow squashes, followed by cucumbers and outside tomatoes. There is also a crew that heads out to broccoli on those mornings. The same people harvest the same crops. This allows each person to get to know the crops and observe the changes in size and quality each time they harvest. We wish each harvest could be totally straight forward, but that’s not possible. There are variables like how hot it is, how much rain has fallen, what the temperatures will be between now and the next harvest, is tomorrow a delivery day or is it a Friday when there will be two days between harvests, etc. Harvesting vegetables is a combination of art and science. When someone is new to a crop they will ask, how long should the zucchini be? and I follow up with a whole explanation of it depends on…

We are ever so grateful for our dedicated crew. Bending over for hours in scratchy plants isn’t exactly the definition of fun, but it is rewarding.

Barb

Cucumber harvest. A new patch with lush foliage.

Zucchini Harvest. The plants are getting old and tired, but still keep producing.

First pepper harvest.

Part of our crew heading back to the farm after a harvest. (Neing, Ryna, Phearo, Tonny, Tom, Sophal). They are in the back of a box truck. We use our box trucks for harvest and delivery.

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.

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