Planting


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’s 10:00. The trucks just pulled out laden with spring greens; a crew of 6 is out in the fields transplanting cabbage, Swiss chard, spinach, kohlrabi and fennel; David is on his tractor planting radish and turnip seeds, Eric is in the potting shed seeding popcorn. We packed 225 Spring Shares and cut 1,000 pounds or so of seed potatoes. The squash, watermelon and sweet corn transplants were moved out of their cozy warm germination chamber into the greenhouse and the salad mix transplants were moved into the area where we harden off the plants to prepare them for transplanting. Now what?

The transplanting will continue most of the day, the delivery drivers will pull in around 3:00, Eric will stay busy with farm tasks, David will likely be on his tractor all day, Jesse will be planting potatoes and Jonnah and I get to catch up on office work.

We couldn’t have been happier to see the sun come out yesterday and the soil begin to dry out and warm up. We spent a cold rainy Monday in the damp potting shed seeding all day. We spent a cold windy day Tuesday harvesting in the hoophouses. We totally enjoyed Wednesday as we continued harvest and started the week’s transplanting. It’s May on the Farm!

Barb

Watercress harvest. The watercress grows in a little spring fed stream on the border of our wetland. The most fun and challenging part of this job is figuring out how to set up the harvest to avoid stepping knee deep into muck. We’re not always successful, Sophal slipped off and filled his boot with water.

Washing tot soi. We all stand around the tub of ice cold water rubbing off dirt and removing bad leaves. Barb, Yun, Ryna, Eric (J-Mo), Neing, Phearo.

Sorrel harvest. Sorrel is a perennial and is one of the first plants to come up in spring. It’s cut, then washed and spun dry and bagged.

Harvesting Red Russian Kale, one of the greens in the sauté mix. Notice how the crew has to work around the tomato plants. We inter-plant tomatoes in our hoophouse alongside the greens. Once the greens are all harvested the house turns into a jungle of tomatoes

Today is the first Spring Share delivery and as I sit down to write this there are flakes of snow falling from the sky. I rub my eyes and look again, yup. OK, April in Wisconsin. The trucks have left the farm with an amazing assortment of greens. We do our best to work around Mother Nature in April, hence our hoophuses.  We have two lovely structures where we plant directly into the ground, so if it snows or freezes or rains like crazy outside, the crops are protected and happily growing. We don’t worry too much about cold weather, the tender spring greens can easily take temperatures down to 20 degrees and will make it through with only minor setback at even colder temps. They look fragile but are some of the toughest vegetables when it comes to withstanding cold.

We have also had some fantastic spring weather and have been able to transplant (plant the plants that we have grown in the greenhouse) onions, lettuce, scallions, peas and leeks outside. We have also seeded carrots outside. We haven’t had much rain, but have irrigated each time we have planted. Many times we have very different weather from Madison and other surrounding areas. Less rain can be better because we have the ability to irrigate. Too much rain can keep us out of the fields.

April is full of new life and is a super busy time on the farm. Let the season begin! Hey, it stopped snowing.

Barb

Harvesting salad mix. Yun carrying his full crate down the aisle between two beds of spinach. The isles are very narrow and we really have to be careful when harvesting. Note, we balance our crates on waste baskets because the rows are even too narrow to set down a crate. We maximize the valuable space in hoophouse.

Radish harvest. The largest radishes are pulled and set in the isles in bunches of 10. They can be easily counted this way. We harvest many things to a specific count.

Transplanting onions. A machine laid the plastic and another machine poked the holes marking where the onions should go. Two people walk ahead and lay down the onion transplants and the others follow and plant them.

Barb has a new role this season, driving the tractor for transplanting. I needed to watch the front wheel to keep it in the tire track as I sped along .1 mph. Not easy driving that slow.

Tonny and Phearo riding the transplanter and planting lettuce.

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

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