Produce


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.

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.

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 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.

 

Yes, it’s true. We know it’s coming, but why does it catch us by surprise every year? Summer vegetables are on their way out and fall crops have arrived. Gone are summer squash and cucumbers and soon tomatoes and peppers. Eggplant seems to be hanging in there longer than most years. Welcome winter squash, fall greens (collards and kale) and the return of lettuce heads, to name a few. The pumpkins are orange, the hills are getting ready to burst into color and the sun is rising later. Each fall we adjust our work hours so we can work in the daylight. A 6:00 start time would mean headlamps; starting a bit later seems easier. Our daily routine has changed a lot. Change is good. Gone is the Monday, Wednesday, Friday harvest schedule of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, repeat. We spent last Friday clipping delicate squash and pie pumpkins. The unique aspect of this fall is rain, rain, rain. As I wrote last week, we do what we need to do to get the jobs done. Never two days the same, never two seasons the same. That’s what keeps it fun.

Barb

The crew headed out after lunch to harvest broccoli. The rain had stopped and the storm was just north of us. The sky was black and thunder was rumbling. Really beautiful.

The crew headed out after lunch to harvest broccoli. The rain had stopped and the storm was just north of us. The sky was black and thunder was rumbling. Really beautiful.

Heading out to harvest the broccoli.

Heading out to harvest the broccoli.

Eggplant harvest. Yes, everyone is standing. This is some tall and healthy eggplant.

Eggplant harvest. Yes, everyone is standing. This is some tall and healthy eggplant.

Potato harvest. As eggplant was being harvested, another crew was harvesting the Australian Crescent fingerling potatoes.

Potato harvest. As eggplant was being harvested, another crew was harvesting the Australian Crescent fingerling potatoes.

Delicata squash harvest. These squash were clipped last Friday and picked up and placed into bulk bins on Tuesday. We then spent Tuesday afternoon running them through a brush washer to take off the dirt.

Delicata squash harvest. These squash were clipped last Friday and picked up and placed into bulk bins on Tuesday. We then spent Tuesday afternoon running them through a brush washer to take off the dirt.

Members Dawn and Eliza Clawson picking up their share

Members Dawn and Eliza picking up their share

I was fortunate enough to meet Dawn and Eliza while delivering shares in Middleton last week. It’s not often that I have interactions with our members and I very much enjoy knowing where the food is going. The sweet mother-daughter duet excitedly unloaded their vegetables as I unloaded my truck. Little Eliza took a bite out of one of the peppers I had helped harvest, only to turn to me and say, “I’m really enjoying this pepper!” She brightened my day with her questions and love for peppers.

Peppers come from one of the most diverse families in vegetables, Capsicum, derived from the Greek word meaning “to bite”. Take notice of little Eliza taking a bite, or rather large bite in her case, of the pepper in the picture above ☺. There are over 30 species of peppers currently known and only five have been cultivated. The modern peppers we enjoy – chipotle, jalapeño, bell, poblano, serrano, and ancho—to name a few are all from one species (Capsicum annuum). Peppers are constantly being maintained by seed growers in order to breed out bad qualities and increase pleasing flavors. The Carmen peppers little Eliza enjoyed so much is a very recent variety developed organically by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

All peppers begin green in color. The Carmens shown here demonstrate different phases of ripening into a deep red.

All peppers begin green in color. The Carmens shown here demonstrate different phases of ripening into a deep red.

Throughout countless years of attempting to survive in a world seeking to eat them, peppers evolved a chemical alkaloid, capsaicin, to protect from herbivory. Capsaicin, the spicy component, resides in the inner membrane and seeds of the fruit. Think of it as a loving mother giving all of her warmth to her children to protect them on their journey. This spicy component efficiently deters pests, even silly little squirrels know not to nibble on the pepper  fruit! A word of wisdom to all of you spicy pepper lovers: capsaicin is fat (not water) soluble. So Dawn, if Eliza happens to bite into a spicy jalapeno by mistake, give her some milk to take calm down those heated taste buds.
Keep on loving those peppers, Eliza! We’ll keep growing them ☺

Abigail, crew leader on the farm

Abigail and Georgia having fun in the peppers!

Abigail and Georgia having fun in the peppers!

August, ask any vegetable farmer how they feel at the end of August and you will either get dead-pan silence or a long winded saga. A mix of long days, heavy harvests, and hot weather can make even the heartiest farmer long for the first frost. One of our favorite things about August is having our CSA members come out to the farm to get down and do some harvesting of their own. We invite members to come out on 4 weekends to pick Roma tomatoes, basil, hot peppers, and tomatillos. Most people can or freeze the bounty to extend the local eating experience into the winter. Even though the temperatures are still warm, autumn is hanging in the air which makes putting food up for winter feel like the instinctively right way to spend the weekend. We have one more U-Pick event coming up this weekend – time to gather up your tomatoes and celebrate the end of August and the transition into fall! More info.

~Jonnah

If you are a member of our CSA and have already come out to a U Pick event but would like more tomatoes, email us to let us know you will be coming again.

Tomatoes dripping from the vine.

Tomatoes dripping from the vine.

Harvesting Roma's for a big canning project

Harvesting Roma’s for a big canning project.

Judith has been a CSA member since 1995 - our second season! She comes out to as many farm events as she can. Here she is with basil she harvested for her marinara sauce.

Judith has been a CSA member since 1995 – our second season! She comes out to as many farm events as she can. Here she is with basil she harvested for her marinara sauce.

Thousands of bed feet of Roma's.

Thousands of bed feet of Roma’s.

Everyone helps to fill heaping bags of tomatos!

Everyone helps to fill heaping bags of tomatoes!

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