Packing shed


As the crew bags garlic in the packing shed for the final delivery of 2016, I am in the office compiling harvest data from this season so next season’s planning can begin. The planning for 2017 begins by looking closely at what we planted and harvested and delivered this season. That will be a basis for next year’s plans. Enough? Too much? Earlier? Later? Some things we have control of, other things we don’t, so we need to be in control where we can be. I will have the seed order placed by the end of the year. That means all varieties and quantities decided. Along with figuring how many seeds of each variety we need, I also lay out the greenhouse, transplanting and direct seeding plan.

There are 7 of us working through next week. Then we go down to a skeleton crew of everyone whose last name is Perkins! (Barb, David, Jesse, Eric, Jonnah) These Perkins’ keep the farm running over the winter. Jonnah is in the office managing 2017 sign ups, Jesse is busy with the seed potato business, Eric does odd (and necessary) jobs, Barb and David prepare for next season. And all of us get to go on vacation!  Thanks for all of the support you give to the farm. This farm only exists because of you! Happy winter time and see you next season.

Barb

Here are the folks that grew your vegetables. Jonnah, Jesse, David, Barb, J-Mo (Eric), and Nasta just sent off the last delivery of the year!

Here are the folks that grew your vegetables. Jonnah, Jesse, David, Barb, J-Mo (Eric), and Nasta just sent off the last delivery of the year!

Becky and Abigail washing crates in the cold, wet packing shed. Thousands of crates and containers get washed and sanitized at the end of the season. All the little details that are part of farming.

Becky and Abigail washing crates in the cold, wet packing shed. Thousands of crates and containers get washed and sanitized at the end of the season. All the little details that are part of farming.

This time of year we are super busy in the fields, as you can imagine. We are out there rain or shine, and that has meant hours harvesting in the rain over the past week. Not a big deal, it’s actually more pleasant than working in that hot, humid weather. But harvest is only one piece of the puzzle. The packing shed is an incredibly busy place, the place where everything comes right after it is harvested. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday we harvest tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. Each Tuesday we harvest peppers and eggplant. We harvest everything else as it fits in best. We need to keep a really organized schedule in order to get it all done. Once in the packing shed, the vegetables get washed, cleaned, bagged, weighed, sorted. Tons of vegetables each week. The crew logs in many hours counting tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. The bagging table stays busy. I guess we all stay busy.

~Barb

Jody, Abby and Kim bagging carrots. They carrots get pushed into the holes on each corner and fall into a plastic bag. The weight can be read on each side. Abby is putting on the bags.

Jody, Abby and Kim bagging carrots. They carrots get pushed into the holes on each corner and fall into a plastic bag. The weight can be read on each side. Abby is putting on the bags.

Cleaning garlic. We clip off the stems and rub off the dirt. Chan Rey, Rhena and Sophal.

Cleaning garlic. We clip off the stems and rub off the dirt. Chan Rey, Rhena and Sophal.

Eric (J-Mo), Georgia, Becca and Abigail washing Japanese Trifele Black tomatoes. This group of workers logs in 8 – 10 hours a week at this table washing and counting. That’s a lot of counting!

Eric (J-Mo), Georgia, Becca and Abigail washing Japanese Trifele Black tomatoes. This group of workers logs in 8 – 10 hours a week at this table washing and counting. That’s a lot of counting!

Tonny, Becca and Becky washing potatoes. They roll through a tumbler and come out on this end where any bad ones are pulled out and then the potatoes roll into a waiting crate. The stacks of crated potatoes get weighed and then bagged.

Tonny, Becca and Becky washing potatoes. They roll through a tumbler and come out on this end where any bad ones are pulled out and then the potatoes roll into a waiting crate. The stacks of crated potatoes get weighed and then bagged.

The tomato assembly line. All of the tomato varieties are put on the table; then a calculated number of each one gets put into a bag. This is a regular Wednesday afternoon task. It can only happen after all of the tomatoes are harvested, washed and counted! Over 10,000 tomatoes harvested, washed and counted this week.

The tomato assembly line. All of the tomato varieties are put on the table; then a calculated number of each one gets put into a bag. This is a regular Wednesday afternoon task. It can only happen after all of the tomatoes are harvested, washed and counted! Over 10,000 tomatoes harvested, washed and counted this week.

We had a visitor come work on our farm last week. Jenny is a young woman I met at a farming conference last winter when I sat down at a table full of people I didn’t know. Come to find out she is a childhood friend of Jonnah’s and had been to our farm for Jesse and Jonnah’s wedding in 2010 (yes, small world). She writes a blog and I enjoyed reading about her three day visit to our farm. It’s great to get an outsiders perspective.

~Barb

Jenny on the brushwasher

Jenny on the brushwasher

“I, as a new landowner in the planning stages of a farm operation, came to Vermont Valley to garner any advice, strategies and know-how that the Perkins’ family has developed over the past two plus decades farming. A perfectly unpredictable reunion. What I learned from Jonnah, her mother-in-law Barb and the whole crew, I will take with me into all future endeavors. The biggest lesson being- if you invest in working your body, your body will work for you. We started our day at 6:30am sharp and by 8:00am we were finished harvesting more cucumber than I’ve ever seen in one place. We moved quickly on to tomatoes, finding the juiciest ripe little delicacies on the vine and brought them back to the pack shed. By 10:30am, we had washed hundreds of tomatoes, zucchini and cucumber and were ready to head out to the field again to harvest garlic until lunch time. The whole place is buoyed along by the fact that they will bring 1,000 families really good food this week and the next and the next. I consider myself a pretty fit person, but I was tired! It was hot, I shouldn’t have been wearing pants, and the fifty-pound crates of vegetables were feeling heavy in my arms as I carried them from truck to pallet. I looked at the two women working with me, guiding me through the day, both smaller than I, not really breaking a sweat, skinny muscles and energy happily carrying them along. Abby, a kind agronomist and Vermont Valley employee looked at me and said, “you have your farm muscles already.” I beamed with pride. At noon we took an hour lunch. Food had never tasted so good. By 1:00, I was ready for more work. It felt good to go to bed so physically tired that night. I imagine it’s how we’re all supposed to hit the pillow. It means eating a good dinner, passing on a second glass of wine, and sleeping by 9:00pm… or 10:00pm. A lot gets done when you live this way. I consider it really good news that our bodies are capable of so much if we treat them with love and respect.  I made a pact with myself to try always to live in a way that my muscles are tired at night.” Read the full essayGo To Bed Tired

Jenny harvesting tomatoes in the hoophouse

Jenny harvesting tomatoes in the hoophouse

On the packing - Jonnah, Barb, and Jenny

On the packing – Jonnah, Barb, and Jenny

Our son Eric is getting married on Saturday. The wedding is on the farm. What a great reason to get everything looking absolutely gorgeous. We spent Monday transplanting spinach, broccoli, celery and lettuce. We harvested rhubarb, turnips, radishes, scallions, spinach. Then after the work day was done and employees had gone home, eight yards of mulch (for the flower gardens) was delivered. Let the party begin. On Tuesday there was more harvest and washing of vegetables. In addition, the flower gardens around the house got weeded and mulched. We transformed one hoophouse from spring share to tomatoes. The tomatoes have been growing side by side with the greens. Once we finish harvesting the greens we tear the roots out, weed the area clean and change over the irrigation from sprinklers to drip. On Wednesday we finished the harvest, bagged the greens and got the yard looking really pretty. The decorating crew came on Wednesday night to transform the barn into a dance floor. Oh yea, we had to clean out the barn too. Best wishes to Eric and Loretta!   -Barb

The last harvest of salad mix.

The last harvest of salad mix.

Cleaning out the beds we have finished harvesting. Removing the roots of arugula as we make more room for the tomatoes.

Cleaning out the beds we have finished harvesting. Removing the roots of arugula as we make more room for the tomatoes.

Harvesting fennel. One of the last standing crops in the hoophouse.

Harvesting fennel. One of the last standing crops in the hoophouse.

And now onto wedding preparations:

Mulch pile on driveway (or is it a dog bed?)

Mulch pile on driveway (or is it a dog bed?)

Garden mulching crew.

Garden mulching crew.

Eric, the groom, getting it all in shape.

Eric, the groom, getting it all in shape.

Tom doing some fine tuning.

Tom doing some fine tuning.

And things are in full swing around here. Here’s a glimpse of our week…..Monday: Harvest salad mix, saute mix, arugula, radishes. Wash them in tubs of icy water. Band the radishes. Cut seed potatoes. Spend hours in the greenhouse planting sweet corn, lettuce, summer squash, winter squash and watermelon. Transplant broccoli, kohlrabi cabbage in the fields. Seed radishes and turnips in the field. Tuesday: Harvest spinach, dandelion greens, ramps, watercress, sorrel. Wash them in tubs of icy water. Bag salad mix. Finish cutting 25,000 pounds of seed potatoes!!!! Transplant fennel and swiss chard in the fields. Wednesday: Wash and band ramps. Bag sauté mix, spinach, sorrel, arugula, watercress. Move lots of plants out of the greenhouse to make room for more. Harvest lettuce heads and tot soi. Wash them. Weed the sauté mix and around the tomatoes in the hoophouse. Power wash over 100 seed trays so we can use them again next week to plant into. Begin to trellis the tomatoes in the hoophouse. Plant potatoes. Now it’s Thursday and we will pack the spring share boxes and deliver them. While two delivery trucks head out, the rest of the crew will stay busy on the farm. I’m sure they will find something to do. We love what we do and it brings us great joy to grow vegetables for you! Thank you.

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Washing and banding radishes in the packing shed.

Washing and banding radishes in the packing shed.

Watercress harvest. We find the watercress just behind our greenhouse growing wild in a spring fed stream.

Watercress harvest. We find the watercress just behind our greenhouse growing wild in a spring fed stream.

A harvester’s view of the watercress while standing on the board. If anyone slips off the board they sink into muck up to their knees.

A harvester’s view of the watercress while standing on the board. If anyone slips off the board they sink into muck up to their knees.

Pounding posts between the tomato plants so we can trellis them. You can see our spring share crops and interplanted with the tomatoes.

Pounding posts between the tomato plants so we can trellis them. You can see our spring share crops and interplanted with the tomatoes.

As we load the trucks and head into Madison with 10,500 pounds of vegetables and 6,480 pounds of citrus, ice and snow aren’t on our mind. Not today, when it is predicted to be about 25 degrees warmer than average and close to the record for warmest day in recorded history (55 degrees in 1911). Somehow I’m having a hard time remembering that particular day. What I do remember is a blizzard in 2009 the day before the Storage Share delivery. We all spent that entire day plowing and shoveling so we could move the trucks to the loading dock, get them loaded and drive the trucks up the driveway; no small feat. Oh yea, then we had to drive around Madison.

This week’s non–blizzardy, warm weather has allowed us to work on a different job. We replaced the plastic on our greenhouse. Traditional greenhouse plastic has a finite life, about 5 years, and then light transmission becomes compromised. David discovered a new product that should never have to be replaced and is said to have exceptional light transmission. It looks like bubble wrap and comes in sheets that get slid into channels. Quite different from traditional plastic that gets pulled over the greenhouse in one big sheet.

We’ve enjoyed this week and the crew has one more week of work before they gets a 10 week break until we start planting seeds in the newly covered greenhouse.

Barb

Happy Winter and see you next season!

A 2009 storage share delivery preparation. We are thankful for 2015 weather!

A 2009 storage share delivery preparation. We are thankful for 2015 weather!

The old plastic is coming off.

The old plastic is coming off.

All off. Now David and his crew will attach the channels and make other modifications. There is always room for improvement and innovation.

All off. Now David and his crew will attach the channels and make other modifications. There is always room for improvement and innovation.

David talks with us as we prepare to pull on the first section of new bubble plastic. Notice the wooden 2x4s. This modification has to do with a roll down ventilation system we are adding.

David talks with us as we prepare to pull on the first section of new bubble plastic. Notice the wooden 2x4s. This modification has to do with a roll down ventilation system we are adding.

Eric and J-Mo hold the roll, Barb and Becca guide it through the channel and Jesse stands on a ladder pulling it up.

Eric and J-Mo hold the roll, Barb and Becca guide it through the channel and Jesse stands on a ladder pulling it up.

ection by section it goes on. Eric and Becca guiding it up. Now David is on the ladder.

Section by section it goes on. Eric and Becca guiding it up. Now David is on the ladder.

Vermont Valley crew 2015

A common question I get this time of year. Most notably in 2015, we had particularly pleasant weather to work in, mild temperatures, sunny days, breezes; with only a few hot and nasty days, and seldom working in the rain. The fall has been unbelievable, with summer-like weather continuing right into our last week and no frost until just last week. After 21 CSA years, we have experienced it all; droughts, floods, extreme continuous heat, working in mud, working in the cold… The work we do for you involves a tremendous amount of hand labor, in the fields and in the packing shed. Our worker-share members get a taste of it, but it is hard to imagine what it means in the abstract; bending, stooping, and lifting 9 to 10 hours a day. Although we usually talk about the weather in terms of the plants, it’s the people that take the brunt of the bad; the plants seem to have their way to cope without complaining. So please wish us 2015 weather for 2016.

For the most part, the vegetables felt the same way about the weather and responded with excellent harvests. They needed a little extra water now and then because we did have periods of droughty weather; we irrigate regularly to keep the plants healthy. Most vegetables are very water sensitive and responsive to adequate moisture, affecting both the quality and quantity of produce you receive. The number one field management issue we deal with is moisture. Because of the mild temperatures, the dry periods were easy to adjust for because there was no extreme heat to further exacerbate the lack of moisture; so a smaller quantity or irrigation water did the job. The dryer weather also made preparing the fields easier because the tractor work needed to be done when the soil isn’t too wet. We put a lot of organic mulch on our fields which we grow and harvest from our marginal ground. The mulch is harvested and made into large round bales and you need to make hay while the sun shines (the hay needs to be dry to bale it). With the great weather, we had a good mulch harvest for use on the fields in 2016. Lots of reasons we liked the season’s weather.

We are very pleased with the 2015 harvests and can hope for a similar harvest next year. Some of the highlights (from our perspective) were plentiful red peppers, lots of broccoli, great corn, an abundance of tomatoes, a steady supply of cucumbers and summer squash, and beautiful winter squash. Eggplant was the big disappointment. We planted beautiful plants into the fields, covered the plants with row cover to keep out the insects and within a week they had developed lesions midway up their stem and were dying. I spent hours at the UW plant diagnostic lab looking under a microscope and multiple tests were run. Nothing conclusive. Hmm. Our melon crop was also perplexing. The two varieties we have grown to love performed totally different this year. We did not get the harvest we had hoped for. Each season is different with its ups and downs; but we certainly had more ups than downs. The survey you receive is your chance to tell us what you think, so please do.

We hope you’ve enjoyed being part of the Farm this season; and we hope you rejoin us for 2016! Please spread the word about your farm; it is very helpful to us. You are the reason we are able to keep farming, so thanks much.

David and Barb

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