September 18 – 21, 2017
Some people say that farmers are eternal optimists as they are often heard to say, “there is always next year!” There is probably some truth to that, and when you grow a crop that takes all season to mature, you only get one shot a year to get it right. The farmer’s management, weather, pests, plant disease, and a little luck all have influence on whether a crop does well or could be considered a failure. When you are growing a hundred or more varieties of dozens of crops, each season is bound to include one or two failures.
Maybe you have four crops of yellow squash, and if only one crop fails, your CSA members may never know. Or if the early romaine lettuce is not even harvested since it bolts early, your green leaf and red butter lettuces will fill the gap. But if the failure is a crop that takes all season to grow and you only have it planted once – it can be a financial loss, potentially a lot of wasted work, and is downright discouraging. While year after year, we always seem to fill the CSA bags, sharing in the risks of the growing season is the true nature of the CSA model, along with reaping the benefit of the bounty.
So, let’s talk about the spaghetti, acorn and sweet dumpling fall squashes. This season we planted two crops of these long-growing, viney, large-area using crops. The early squashes were planted next to cucumbers and melons in field 9, and were setup with regular drip irrigation and mulch for weed control to insure the plants did well and that they were given every opportunity to produce lots of product. Conditions seemed right during the summer growth, and the fruit set was prolific without being too much. The spaghetti squash came ready for harvest first, followed by the acorn, sweet dumpling, and butternut. We sorted out the malformed, soft-sided, and not-yet-ripe squash, and then included spaghetti squash in your shares. Next came the sweet dumpling squash, followed this past week by the acorn squash. Then we learned the sad squash news. All of the fall squashes in field 9 are affected by a plant disease that arises when conditions are right – cool, rainy, moist, low sunlight. We have never had this problem with fall squash or pumpkins, though it is fairly common in unseasonable wet Septembers. Chemical farms will spray a fungicide to try to stave it off, but not an option for organic farms.
Possibly we included what we thought was a perfectly good fall squash in your share and it turned out to be a poor do’er. What a not nice surprise! While the squashes reached maturity and maintained a nice appearance, they will not last long and will go bad from the inside out. It was not our intent and if you did indeed receive unusable product, let us know (email is best if you can) and we’ll include an extra item for you next week. Once we learned the exact problem – thanks to Scientist Julie at the UK Plant Pathology Lab – we were able to switch the squash going into CSA shares to acorn and sweet dumpling harvested from a different field. On a positive note, while we don’t have more of all the varieties, we do have two more fields of fall squashes that are planned for maturity a few weeks later.
Cooler Days, Where are the Fall Crops?
When we first started selling produce to restaurant chefs, we quickly learned to not get them too excited too soon about an upcoming new item. We might be thinking that our sweet potatoes would be ready soon, as they take the entire season to grow, and “soon” meant just a few more weeks. As we saw the chef maybe only once a week, he or she had many shifts in the kitchen, prepared many plates, and handled lots of produce between our visits to the back door. “Soon” to the chef meant next delivery.
It is a similar situation for the cooler weather crops like lettuces and spinach. Spinach is a plant (like carrots) that takes the seed many days to germinate, and a couple more to make its way through the soil to daylight. It is a slow grower early-on and is often out-competed by weed plants unless they are attended to promptly. Lettuce is much faster to get going, but much like spinach, it does not like the summer heat.
In the heat of summer when asked -where is the spinach?- we reply that it does not grow well here in our hot climate, and we’ll have it again in the cooler days of fall. The first cool weather weekend in September, and the question comes again -where is the spinach? “Cooler days of fall” has a different meaning to us at the farm. Air and soil temperatures are low enough to allow the seeds to germinate and get a good head-start on growth before it either heats back up or we get several days of rainy weather. We need some time to get that spinach growing and several “cooler days of fall.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have lettuce or spinach all summer long? We are still working on new methods of production to conquer the challenges of too hot air temperatures, too warm soil temperatures, crusted-over soil after a deluge rather than gentle rainfall, and low germination from certain seed varieties no matter the conditions. This week’s salad lettuce is the result of one of our process trials. Seed into a greenhouse flat in an air-conditioned seed room, let the seed break dormancy in the seed chamber in the dark, once it germinates move to the greenhouse within a set number of hours, water and monitor to grow the seedling, transplant to the
field when the conditions are right, irrigate when needed, harvest, rinse, dry, cool, bag, and pack shares. We are glad to be able to include it this week, too bad we didn’t plant more this way!
People new to eating directly from the farm often ask about what items would be in a fall share. It is hard to know the seasonality of central KY unless you grew up here with a family garden, grow your own garden now, or attend a farmers market weekly. Groceries seem to have most every item every week in stock and not all label as to origin of the production. Folks might have moved here from Minnesota where it is cool enough in summer to have broccoli each week, or California where it is warm enough in some areas to have citrus and avocados in a CSA share. One CSA member shared with us on our end-of-season survey how surprised she was that we did not include strawberries in her share every single week as she knew we grew them, and the supermarket had them weekly. Don’t we wish we could!
Fall is a mix of freshly harvested leafy greens, root crops, and items that are harvested before the end of summer and then stored for distribution throughout the fall. It can include onions, garlic, potatoes and sweet potatoes; along with beets, carrots, winter radish, turnips; and kale, spinach, lettuce, collards. We usually have some other items available that are not as predictable but often enjoyed such as fresh herbs, or baby ginger, or dried beans.
Already On to Next Season
Right now we are planting strawberries for next spring’s harvest, and we’ll be planting garlic soon for next summer. Onions and spinach are already seeded for overwintering with harvest expected in April and May. Fall crops like cabbage, broccoli and collards are already growing. Seeding of kale, lettuce and spinach for winter harvest has to happen over the next 4 to 6 weeks in areas that can be easily setup with row cover or low tunnels. We are continuing our packing shed renovation including digging a trench for new water lines that can be weatherized for our winter season high tunnel production. We’ve made our notes about everything affecting our squash product in field 9. We are all sad to be adding so many squashes to our compost pile, where it will be turned into highly beneficial compost that will feed the soil next spring. “There is always next year.”
In Your Share