Produce


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!

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.

Here are the tomato varieties you can expect to see in your share box from now until the frost. This should help you identify your tomatoes. Many of our tomatoes are Heirloom varieties. An Heirloom is an open pollinated variety that has been passed down for generations.

L-R Top Row: Pink Beauty, Japanese Trifele Black, Pink Boar, Marbonne L-R Bottom Row: Red Zebra, Orange Banana, Garden Peach

Top Row: Pink Beauty, Japanese Trifele Black, Pink Boar, red hoophouse tomato,
Bottom Row: Red Zebra, Orange Banana, Garden Peach

Garden Peach: These 2oz yellow fruits blush pink when ripe and have fuzzy skins somewhat like peaches. Soft skinned, juicy and very sweet. Light fruity taste is not what you would expect in a tomato.

Pink Boar: Wine-colored fruits with metallic green striping. Sweet and juicy.

Orange Banana: Long, orange paste-type tomato. Sweet and flavorful.

Red Zebra: A small red tomato overlaid with golden yellow stripes.

Estiva, Arbason, Geronimo, Marbonne (grown in the hoophouse) and Pink Beauty: Red slicing tomatoes with amazing flavor and texture.

Japanese Trifele Black: A tomato that looks like a beautiful mahogany-colored Bartlett pear with greenish shoulders. A rich and complex flavor. Let it sit on your counter and get dark colored and soft before eating it.

Cherry Tomatoes:  Yellow Mini, Sakura (red), Solid Gold, Black Cherry, Cherry Bomb and one un-named gold variety which we are trialing for Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We mix them up for you.

Roma/Paste/Plum/Processing Tomatoes: These tomatoes are drier than most slicing tomatoes, making them perfect for cooking, drying, sauce and salsa making. We grow a mix of traditional red paste tomatoes and others with fascinating shape, size and color. Here are their names:  Granadero, Plum Regal. Roma VF Paste, Viva Italia, San Marzano, Monica, Speckled Roman, Amish Paste, Federle, Opalka, Oxheart, Gilbertie.  We invite you to come out to the farm to harvest your own Romas – U Pick details on our web site.

Note: We aim to harvest our tomatoes just before they are vine-ripe. We do this so you don’t receive an over ripe tomato. But it also means that you may receive a tomato that needs to sit on your counter for a day or two before it is perfect to eat; heavy and quite soft. And when you do receive a very ripe tomato, eat it up.

Our Peruvian guests in the machine shed

Our Peruvian guests in the machine shed

Twenty Edgewood College students, ten of them from Arequipa, Peru, visited the farm Monday afternoon to learn about our farm’s way of farming. We discussed a wide range of topics including local economy, local food, local involvement, organic growing practices, food distribution.  The class was called “Sustainability: Local-Global Connections.” The students had thoughtful questions and will be bringing creative concepts back to Peru with them. A fun diversion to my Monday afternoon routine.

Barb

 

 

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

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.

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.

When you go to work outside every day, it’s understood and expected that every day will be a bit different, weather-wise. But…I did not expect to wake up Wednesday morning to see that our entire wetland had become a lake and the road to our field was now a river. I grabbed my tea and drove up the road expecting to see the water over the bridge, but instead I saw that the wetland was channeling water over Hwy F and up Cedar Hill Lane. I stood there watching water rushing over the road, not sure how deep it was.  As I stood there in total awe, our Cambodian crew came driving up the road on their way to work and without hesitation drove through the river. I watched their van, filled with eight people get pushed sideways with the force of the water but they made it. Then we all stood there looking at the phenomena. I talked with the neighbor, who was born and raised here, and he had never seen this happen. The county came and officially closed the road sometime mid-morning. We needed to get through to harvest broccoli. We waited until after lunch. The water had receded enough to see the lines in the road, so we knew the road wasn’t washed out. And then off to harvest broccoli.

Our fields were not negatively affected by the 3.5 inches of rain. Yes, they were very wet, but there was no standing water except in a small area of one field. I love our wetland. The water knows to go there. And the wetland knows what to do with it. As I write this exactly 24 hours later, the water has totally receded. No more lake or river. It was pretty exciting. Not just another day on the farm.

Barb

The water is flowing over Hwy F and using Cedar Hill Lane as a river route. Cedar Hill is the road we drive down to access 13 acres of vegetable fields. It’s the road you drive down to go to the Pumpkin Pick.

The water is flowing over Hwy F and using Cedar Hill Lane as a river route. Cedar Hill is the road we drive down to access 13 acres of vegetable fields. It’s the road you drive down to go to the Pumpkin Pick.

This is our marsh which never has standing water. Yesterday it looked like Lake Vermont.

This is our marsh which never has standing water. Yesterday it looked like Lake Vermont.

Peeking at the new Lake Vermont from the greenhouse.

Peeking at the new Lake Vermont from the greenhouse.

On the way to harvest broccoli.

On the way to harvest broccoli.

The broccoli fields were high and dry.

The broccoli fields were high and dry.

Lettuce head harvest on Tuesday, before the rains.

Lettuce head harvest on Tuesday, before the rains.

Scallion harvest. Notice the fence, it’s to keep deer out of the lettuce.

Scallion harvest. Notice the fence, it’s to keep deer out of the lettuce.

What a great time of year; everything is bursting with new life and promise. The farm is such a beautiful and vibrant place with a haze of spring green on the hills and gentle rain and loud cranes and baby plants and lots of activity. It’s been a fun week balancing greenhouse planting with the first harvest. The tractors have been busy tilling the ground in preparation for all that will be seeded and transplanted in the next week. Peas were planted today. Garlic plants are huge. Lettuce heads, broccoli, scallions and onions have been transplanted. It’s spring!

This week we bring to you vegetables that have been grown in the hoophouse along with chives grown outside and ramps foraged from the woods. It is all interesting, but the ramps seem to hold a special interest because they are so unique. Following are some pictures from Monday’s ramp harvest.

Hard at work amongst the ramps blanketing the forest floor.

Hard at work amongst the ramps blanketing the forest floor.

Eric, Becky and Abby showing off some freshly dug ramps. They will break apart the clumps and separate the ramps.

Eric, Becky and Abby showing off some freshly dug ramps. They will break apart the clumps and separate the ramps.

Becca digging up ramp clusters.

Becca digging up ramp clusters.

Now they have been separated from the earth surrounding them.

Now they have been separated from the earth surrounding them.

Leaving the forest with our ramps, all 2400 of them.

Leaving the forest with our ramps, all 2400 of them.

And now to the controlled environment of our hoophouse. Abby and Barb harvesting lettuce heads. To the left are the Bok Choy heads we harvested next.

And now to the controlled environment of our hoophouse. Abby and Barb harvesting lettuce heads. To the left are the Bok Choy heads we harvested next.

It’s weird, it’s warm, it may not be quite right, it certainly doesn’t feel like Wisconsin, but this fall has been amazing! Mother Nature has given us the luxury of working in weather that doesn’t freeze our fingers and toes or freeze the water in the packing shed. This extended fall has enabled us to harvest vegetables without waiting for them to thaw. Every day I am in awe when the temperatures is above freezing. You see, this is not typical at all. I expect temperatures to be in the teens and twenties this time of year. We always manage to get our work done, but we have to creatively work around the temperatures.

This is a special time of year when all of the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor come to fruition. We spent a lot of time this week in the packing shed (with the side walls open!) bagging, bagging and more bagging, although each day we did out into the sunshine to harvest (Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage). The other vegetables were harvested prior to this week, washed and held in the walk in cooler. We need to plan our time differently this time of year since we are working with a very small crew. The large crews of the summer are finished and we complete the harvest, bagging and packing of shares with six people. It’s how the season began. It feels like full circle. We have clean up tasks to complete and a December Storage Share to pack up and deliver. Then we get a nearly 8 pause before we begin planting seeds again.

Enjoy the farm’s bounty!

Barb

The crew harvesting Brussels sprouts on a warm afternoon

The crew harvesting Brussels sprouts on a warm afternoon

Becca and Eric harvesting and banding kale

Becca and Eric harvesting and banding kale

 

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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