CSA pick-up #19…and The 2009 Recap!

Wow! Mid-October is somehow already here, and it’s week #19 for the CSA. Yet another rainy harvest day has brought forth the following:

1 bag (approx. 2.5 lbs) of winter squash
1.5 lb bag of carrots
1 lb bag of parsnips
1 lb bag of beets -OR- turnips
1 kohlrabi
1 bunch of mustard greens
1 head of Napa cabbage -OR- bok choi -OR- cabbage
1/2 lb bag of salad mix

Things are really winding down now, folks. One more week to go! Today was a chilly harvest…Sonya is still trying to warm her hands up after much cutting and bunching of greens in this morning’s rain. Kate and I are trying to get our hands clean after harvesting over 200 pounds of root crops yesterday. It’s looking pretty empty out in those fields…

As fall blows in with its crisp days and colorful leaves, the general farm work begins to lighten and we can start reflecting on the season that is about to pass. We always hope to have learned some lessons and managed to get a little better at what we’re doing here at Summit Springs Farm.

What a season it has been! Having Lydia sure made things a lot more interesting around here. Looking back to late last winter, we were really stressing out about how the season would go with a new baby. We started out the season wearing her while working out in the fields. That worked pretty well for the first few months, but the more mobile she got, the less she wanted to hang out on our backs, unable to dig her hands into the soil. Soon we began to just switch off, with one of us working while the other hung out with Miss Lydi. This really cut our available work time down, but it was necessary. We are very grateful to Sonya’s mom, Sandy, who comes over and spends Monday mornings with Lydia and to our wonderful neighbors, Litha and Larry Thurlow, who watch Lydia over at their house on our busy harvest mornings, each Tuesday and Friday. But most of all, thank god for Kate Jones! Kate is our apprentice this year and the farm’s very first apprentice. She has been a strong force here, and we don’t know how we would have made it through without her hard work, great attitude, and willingness to do just about anything. We hope that we will be so lucky in the years to come! Kate has gone back to school in Bridgton but is still helping out and will be living here at the farm until sometime in February or March. Her presence this winter will allow us to get out of here and do some traveling! But I digress…

The big story this season, of course, was the rain. We were so optimistic, too, back in the spring that this would be a solid season. We had the use of our greenhouse from Day 1, the seedlings we started in there were strong and healthy, and surely it couldn’t be as bad as last year’s wet summer, right? Well, it rained and rained and rained and rained, through all of June and into July…it was unseasonably cool, too. We were very fearful that this entire season would be a wash…pun intended…or that at least an early ending would be inevitable. But, somehow, we made it. Some crops like strawberries, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow summer squash, garlic, and assorted greens actually did very well. Others, like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, and peppers did very poorly. And the tomatoes, the poor tomatoes… The earliest-ever appearance of late blight in the state, plus the prevalence of other diseases that thrive in moist, cool conditions did a number on tomato growing statewide. Here, we lost every last one of our field tomatoes, about 500 plants. Our greenhouse tomatoes somehow avoided the blight and did pretty well under the circumstances, allowing all of our CSA folks to get at least some cherry and big tomatoes this summer.

The rain, and the sea of weeds that the rains begot, dropped our overall yields down. Many of our CSA shares during the summer were lighter than we would have liked, both in terms of quantities and variety. Even more affected, though, were our markets in Portland and Bridgton. It was many a week were we had to pass along just about everything we could get out of the fields to the CSA and had very little left over to sell at market. Thank goodness for our hens and their eggs! Having lots of eggs to sell kept us afloat on numerous occasions. Another consequence of the rainy spring/early summer was that we were unable to get some fall crops in on time. With only a couple of weeks left in the season, we’re anxiously hoping our cabbage, beets, and dry beans size up quick!

There have been some great successes, however. Our greens this fall, especially the Asian greens like Napa cabbage and bok choy, have been amazing. We decided to get a bunch of these greens going in the greenhouse for transplanting once everything dried out, and we’re very glad we did. Surprisingly, some of these crops have blown us away. It has been our habit in the past to direct seed broccoli raab, i.e. planting the seeds directly into the field. We now know that starting it in the greenhouse and transplanting it out after a few weeks more than doubles the yield (are you sick of it yet??) We probably wouldn’t have figured that out if it weren’t for those rains. And, in spite of the smaller yields, we will hit our goal of 20 full weeks of veggies for the CSA. That’s with a 100% increase in membership from last year and growing on just slightly more land…not too bad.

We tried some new crops out this season, including royal burgundy beans, tongue of fire shell beans, shell peas, sweet potatoes, and daikon radish, and we again tried to make it happen for melons without using black plastic mulch. We are still waiting and trying to be patient for those tongue of fire beans. They were sown late because of the rains, so we aren’t sure if they will make it or not. We’ll try them again next year. The royal burgundy beans were an excellent addition…tasty, colorful, and well-producing. They will be back again next season. Shell peas didn’t do so well. We got enough for ourselves but not for you. This may have been because of one or more of our little woodchuck friends. Also, the few we got weren’t very sweet, so we may pass on them for next season. The sweet potatoes also did not do well. We planted one 100-ft bed, and the resulting tubers weren’t even big enough to bother harvesting. Not too much of a surprise there, since sweet potatoes do best in hot, dry conditions! The daikons have done very well and seem to be popular with our CSAers. A huge benefit of planting daikon, besides how tasty they are and their great benefits to your liver, is that they really aerate the soil. Those massive roots sometimes grow more than two feet underground. Our farm was in conventional hay for years before we purchased the place. The farmers hay with massive tractors, creating a great deal of compaction in the soil. The daikons and other root crops help, so we are happy to include them in our rotation and our stir frys! Melons? We will keep trying for musk melons, but we’re not sure that the watermelons are going to make it here without some kind of season extension. We will keep it in mind for the future, though.

I want to leave the crops for a paragraph or two and talk about some other noteworthy events at the farm this season. Back in June, Sonya’s dad, Ron, transformed the back corner of our little barn into a super-insulated, air-conditioner-powered veggie cooler. This cooler has been working out great. It keeps our veggies fresher for our CSA members and market customers and has given us some much-needed harvesting flexibility. Also, this year we added an off-the-farm CSA drop in the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist Church on Allen Avenue in Portland. We have about 14 CSA members who pick up their veggies at the church each Friday afternoon. For us, it’s worked out great, and we’re happy to have recently been given the go-ahead to use the parking lot again next season. This season, in addition to the usual monthly potlucks, we decided to have our first ever weeding party, and we will definitely be doing that again. The dedicated and cheerful group who turned out really helped us get a handle on some weedy messes out in the fields, and we had a lot of fun in the process!

Because of the bad weather the last two seasons, we have decided to keep our CSA numbers the same for next season (around 60 available shares). However, we do plan to expand our field space some and possibly add another market. We are hoping this will create fewer sleepless nights for us, as we tend to stress out about our ability to feed our members when the climate isn’t agreeable. We’re concerned about this trend and wonder what to expect going forward. Was this just a couple of fluke seasons or are we starting to see the tangible results of climate change? We know things may get harder, but we will try our best to adapt and learn to farm in our changing climate while growing in ways that decrease the amount of fossil fuels being used.

Some exciting things are on tap for next season. We are planning to put in a pick-your-own high bush blueberry patch. We are investing in the first 20 plants this fall and will be planting them next spring! We are contemplating rhubarb. Thoughts? Anyone? We will continue to expand our strawberry patch. We are also planning to construct a portable hoophouse. This simple idea involves using some pvc pipes hooped over three or four beds and covered with greenhouse plastic to make a basic hot house. No doors, no heat. We are hoping this will make our peppers and eggplant more productive and happy, and it’s another way to protect our tomatoes. It would provide extra warmth, protection from frost, and some protection from airborne fungal diseases like the late blight that hit us this season.

That’s it from here! We appreciate everyone’s support and understanding during this challenging season. Hearing your words of encouragement and seeing your excited faces at pick-ups and markets makes it all worthwhile! We encourage everyone to share your thoughts about the season via the farm survey and/or here on the blog.

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