Planting


CSA members harvesting their own basil.

CSA members harvesting their own basil.

The last half-century has witnessed a reawakening of the importance of our food; what it means to us and our communities. It started with authors and community activists; it started with all sorts of farmers, some maybe more passionate than productive. It started with a common devotion to something that had been lost, food focused on health, taste and a commitment to the earth that sustains us.

People and communities have responded. There are more and more CSA farms every year. There are farmer’s markets around every corner. Organic produce and product sections are in almost every store.  Stores that support organic food grow and expand. The desire to eat well crosses all boundaries, economic, geographic, social and political.

Health: the universal recommendation is Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. What a litany of woes would be solved if that happened! The reality is, what you get in you CSA box is just a healthy start on your vegetables. Some of us eat enough vegetables, but for most of us, the CSA box can be the learning box, the way to teach ourselves, the way to change our eating habits, in a fun, enjoyable and delicious way.

However, not only the vegetables have sprouted and grown over these many years. The notion of “local” is now THE marketing theme which has or will diminish its meaning to a non-meaning. The biggest corporate names in the food “industry” claim to be what we at Vermont Valley Community Farm are. The marketing companies are good at what they do, they know what you value. Lots of claims are made to dissuade and detract from the efforts and commitment of organic farmers.  The market has been invaded with entities looking to “cash in” on you; the people who care about what they eat. But, all the unsavory developments can readily be composted by simply continuing to get your CSA box and better yet, encouraging family and friends to join you.

Know your Farmer, Know your Food. Joining the farm gives you the opportunity to relate to a set of farmers, the land where your food comes from, and get a sense of how your food is grown. But, does it matter? From the industrial perspective of food as a commodity, it does not matter. How could it? You have scant idea where the food product came from. The industry is afraid of you knowing what is in it, let alone who grew it or how it was grown. The alternative perspective is what you have done by getting food from your CSA. You know exactly who grew the food, where it came from, and thru our stories a little better understanding of what goes into growing your food. We hope how much we care about what we are doing shows. The farm/world is in the internet age, but ultimately, contact with real people in real places is what matters, and in relation to your food, that is what CSA offers you.

Unlike the coming election where you could choose not to vote, you will vote a food choice every day.  So, what’s on your plate? Yes, it comes down to that; simple but quite powerful. You have made the choice to put your CSA on your plate; it most definitely matters. Thank you for allowing us to do what we believe in; and we hope you continue to join us.

David

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.

 

We planted the seeds in early March in the greenhouse, snow on the ground. We harvested them Tuesday, no snow! It all started with 53,000 onion seeds and 90 seeding flats. We seeded four per cell, watered them and tucked the flats into germination chambers where they were kept at 80 degrees until they germinated. Then out into the greenhouse where they continued to grow. They were planted into the fields in late April, watered and weeded and watched until this week. When we saw the green tops begin to brown and fall over we knew it was time to harvest.

Planting onions on a chilly April morning. We plant into black plastic mulch for weed control and water retention as we drip irrigate. Drip irrigation tube is under the plastic.

Planting onions on a chilly April morning. We plant into black plastic mulch for weed control and water retention as we drip irrigate. Drip irrigation tube is under the plastic.

Abby and Barb pulling onions and laying them out. Note lots of tall weeds between the beds of onions, no weeds in the beds!

Abigail and Barb pulling onions and laying them out. Note lots of tall weeds between the beds of onions, no weeds in the beds!

Laying on the bed, waiting to be picked up.

Laying on the bed, waiting to be picked up.

They’re gorgeous. Matt (worker share) Abigail, Barb, Becky and Jasen (worker shares)

They’re gorgeous. Matt (worker share) Abigail, Barb, Becky and Jasen (worker shares)

The tractors (see another tractor to the left) move bulk bins along and the pulled onions get placed into them.

The tractors (see another tractor to the left) move bulk bins along and the pulled onions get placed into them.

Taking the onions out of the bulk bin and laying them onto the ground in one of our empty hoophouses.

Taking the onions out of the bulk bin and laying them onto the ground in one of our empty hoophouses.

Garlic is unique in that we plant it in the fall for harvest the following year. We form raised beds which are covered with a very thin layer of plastic mulch. Holes are punched into the plastic and each garlic clove is planted by hand. The best garlic bulbs from the prior year are saved for planting. The bulb is broken apart into its individual cloves. Each clove is planted separately, which becomes next year’s garlic plant. The whole field is then covered with a protective layer of straw mulch for the winter.

Planting garlic last October. Each clove is a seed.

Planting garlic last October. Each clove is a seed.

In the spring, garlic is the very first plant out of the ground, poking thru the straw mulch.  Garlic has shallow roots so it needs lots of water; which we provide with a drip irrigation system that is installed in each raised bed. Any extra needed fertility is added in the fall when the beds are made. A few weeds make their way thru the mulch systems which we then pull by hand.  In early June the garlic sends up its seed heads, called garlic scapes. The scapes are harvested and delivered to you. If the scapes are left on the plant, the garlic bulb will be much smaller because the plant is putting its energy into producing the seed head, which it sees as its way of reproducing itself. It has no idea we are going to do that for the garlic, as described above. So why not plant the seeds from the seed head you may ask. You can, but the result will be very small garlic bulbs.

Tonny in the garlic during the scape harvest.

Tonny in the garlic during the scape harvest.

Mid July is garlic harvest season. Garlic is harvested all at once, making the job a big deal on the farm.  The garlic bulbs mature to a certain point, after which they will begin to lose all their protective layers of “skin” and become undeliverable to you. So all the garlic comes out of the ground; it is placed in a dry place with fans blowing air over the moist bulbs, thereby curing the garlic for long-term storage.

All hands on deck for garlic harvest.

All hands on deck for garlic harvest.

Garlic harvest, like many tasks on the farm, is tedious and slow. Each garlic bulb is hand harvested, the dirt must be removed from the roots, and the outer skin is removed to make the garlic pretty and clean.  Sometimes the soil is a bit too wet and sometimes a bit too dry, each condition giving the harvest crew extra work; but occasionally the soil is just right making the job a little easier. The garlic first has its tops  mowed off to make harvest and curing easier. The garlic beds are then undercut with a tractor operated lifter which loosens the garlic for pulling. Then the hand harvest begins.

David undercutting the garlic to make it easier to harvest.

David undercutting the garlic to make it easier to harvest.

Garlic, like our potatoes, is a seed crop for us. In addition to delivering garlic to you, we sell garlic to other organic farmers for them to plant. So we grow lots of garlic and several varieties. We have experimented over the years with many varieties. We start with a small amount of garlic, and if we like it, we “grow it out”; meaning we keep all the garlic to replant over several years until we have enough to deliver to you and sell to other farms. This year we will be delivering four varieties, Musik, German, Italian Red and Chesnok Red. Each garlic variety has subtle differences in flavor and cooking qualities; all of them are great. We will be including garlic in your share thru the end of the season. Enjoy.

David

If you ask Jesse what his favorite crop is, he will say potatoes. Our potato production is a year round job for us. The cycle starts in March with potatoes from the previous growing season and seed stock bought in from the University of Wisconsin Seed Potato Program. These potatoes are cut into 2 oz pieces and planted. Once the potatoes are in the ground, Jesse spends many hours hilling, cultivating and irrigating the potato fields throughout the spring and summer. Earlier this week, Jesse came back from irrigating the potatoes in our field in Arena, near the Wisconsin River, with pictures of the potatoes flowering! We grow 18 varieties of potatoes and they all put off slightly differently blooms, some don’t flower at all. The colors range from white to blue to pink.

We begin harvesting new potatoes in late July or early August. The main harvest takes place throughout September. This is when we will harvest over 200,000 lbs of potatoes, the yield can vary greatly depending on many factors. The harvested potatoes will be distributed to our CSA members both in this harvest year and into 2017. We store our potatoes in a temperature and humidity controlled cooler for over 8 months.

In addition to our CSA, we also produce potatoes for seed. We sell our seed to other farmers to plant for their own production. Most of our customers are in the Midwest but we have growers from New England, the Northwest, the Southeast and Southwest. Our potatoes are certified organic and certified disease free.

Once the growing season is over, Jesse and I begin the seed potato marketing season. We exhibit at farming conferences and Jesse’s phone doesn’t stop ringing for two months straight. We manage to fit a few vacations in between the frenzy, then we begin the process all over again in the spring. Despite all of the potato-related business, our potatoes remain one of Jesse’s favorite vegetables to eat and he still gets excited about the flowers.

Jonnah

Jonnah and Jesse selling seed at the Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service conference (MOSES). This is the largest organic conference in the country and it is held in LaCrosse WI.

Jonnah and Jesse selling seed at the Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service conference (MOSES). This is the largest organic conference in the country and it is held in LaCrosse WI.

Tonny, Rancy, and Phearo cutting potatoes into pieces to be planted.

Tonny, Rancy, and Phearo cutting potatoes into pieces to be planted.

Planting potato seed pieces in our Arena field.

Planting potato seed pieces in our Arena field.

Beautifully cultivated rows of potatoes - Jesse drives an implement through the rows that irradiates weeds.

Beautiful rows of potatoes.

A field of flowering potatoes in our valley - this is where we will harvest the new potatoes in about a month.

A field of flowering potatoes in our valley.

Busy sums it up. Yes, we are always busy, but there is a unique business about June. When June ends we sit back, or fall back, and say what hit? The answer is always June. Everything that happens on this farm, needs to be done in June. Greenhouse planting, which starts in March and is still going in June; transplanting which starts in April and is still going in June; field tillage and lots of cultivating; cutting hay and bailing it for mulch; mulching beds so we can transplant; putting miles of row cover on plants to protect them from the insects and taking it off when the plants set blossoms; setting up irrigation in all of the beds where we transplant; harvest began June 6; trellising the tomatoes begins in April in the hoophouse and hits full stride in the fields in June; trellising peas, done; oodles and oodles of packing shed work. Our office manager, Jonnah, works overtime organizing the deliveries, helping members get signed up, answering lots of questions and helping in the fields if she can. Once we make it through June we can breathe a bit easier and wait for August, which somehow seems to ramp back up again. But hey, we love it. Why else would we do it? Then Monday afternoon added a new twist. We spent a few hours with a film crew from Wisconsin Public Television. They were here to film us for a story to be featured on Around the Farm Table in the fall (we’ll let you know when). Kind of fun to squeeze in one more thing in June.

Barb

Barb and David all set to be filmed for Around the Farm Table. Take One; Take Two. That’s all we had to do. He said we were great. We like talking about our farm.

Barb and David all set to be filmed for Around the Farm Table. Take One; Take Two. That’s all we had to do. He said we were great. We like talking about our farm.

The real star of the show will be Jesse. The story is about potatoes and he knows everything there is to know about potatoes.

The real star of the show will be Jesse. The story is about potatoes and he knows everything there is to know about potatoes.

Harvesting Peas, over 1000 pounds of them so far this week. We are so pleased, maybe the nicest peas we have had on this farm. You will love them.

Harvesting Peas, over 1000 pounds of them so far this week. We are so pleased, maybe the nicest peas we have had on this farm. You will love them.

Mother and son, Ryna and Phearo, harvesting together.

Mother and son, Ryna and Phearo, harvesting together.

Jonnah and Becca transplanting sweet corn. This is the sixth sweet corn planting of the season. That means you will get sweet corn week after week once it ripens. If you look through the orange bars of the racks, you can see several plantings at different maturity levels.

Jonnah and Becca transplanting sweet corn. This is the sixth sweet corn planting of the season. That means you will get sweet corn week after week once it ripens. If you look through the orange bars of the racks, you can see several plantings at different maturity levels.

Becky and Georgia bagging peas.

Becky and Georgia bagging peas.

Sophal, Ryna, Rancy and Phearo banding garlic scapes.

Sophal, Ryna, Rancy and Phearo banding garlic scapes.

The first delivery of the 2016 season is exciting. We’ve been planning, planting and working towards this day since last fall! The fields are growing lush with a wide variety of vegetables. Quite a beautiful tapestry. The weather has been a bit like a bouncing ball, kind of all over the place, but we have learned to roll with it. Irrigate when we need to, plant when the conditions are good, and always watch the weather forecast and radar. All of the food is brought to you by a wonderful and dedicated crew of people. We have a combination of Perkins family, 6 of us; our dedicated seasonal Cambodian crew, 10 of them; our full time farm crew, 5 of them; and worker shares who put in four hours a week; 28 of them.

This week was varied as we harvested vegetables, transplanted, washed vegetables, weeded, bagged and banded vegetables, started seeds in the greenhouse, took floating row cover off 1000’s of row feet of squash and put it onto freshly planted cucumbers and melons (in the effort to keep hungry insects from eating your food). The week culminates this morning when 7 of us will pack your shares, load them into delivery trucks and bring them to you. What a great week.

Thanks for your support! Enjoy your first share!

Barb

Thursday morning packing line crew, each of us holding the item we placed into the share box. (sitting) Abby, Becca, Georgia, J-Mo, (standing)Barb Ken , Tom

Thursday morning packing line crew, each of us holding the item we placed into the share box. (sitting) Abby, Becca, Georgia, J-Mo, (standing)Barb, Ken , Tom

Early morning salad mix harvest. Thanks for the big smile, Tonny.

Early morning salad mix harvest. Thanks for the big smile, Tonny.

Rhubarb harvest, featuring Matt and Vicki, two worker shares. We were hard at this harvest for 4 hours and we kept adding people to the crew as they became freed up from other tasks, until there were 16 of us.

Rhubarb harvest, featuring Matt and Vicki, two worker shares. We were hard at this harvest for 4 hours and we kept adding people to the crew as they became freed up from other tasks, until there were 16 of us.

Eric and Tom riding the transplanter and laying out the pepper plants.

Eric and Tom riding the transplanter and laying out the pepper plants.

Rith and Pharo planting peppers two weeks ago.

Rith and Pharo planting peppers two weeks ago.

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