Settling in for Winter

October 21-27, 2019

There’s a lot going on out here on the banks of the Elkhorn in October with all of the vegetables and other crops. That’s why they call it the “harvest moon” this time of the year. With the last tomatoes holding out; the fall greens coming into their favorite season; the process of curing sweet potatoes; securing, harvesting, and cleaning fall squash; to feeding and talking nice to the turkeys, fall is an active time of year.

Additionally, I bet we set a weather record on the shortest duration of time between 97 degrees and first frost (was it 24 hours or less?) but now that fall is here, the farm is settling in for winter with our packing shed full of good food and a forecast to allow favorable conditions for lots of fresh veggies to go along with the stored items. Plus, with the shorter days, we farmers can get to the house a little earlier for a simple supper and on to some much-needed sleep.

The tomatoes in this week’s share are most likely the last of 2019. At a family gathering on the weekend, we had Elmwood epic half-pound cheeseburgers with a slab of heirloom tomato to celebrate. It sure has been nice to have them this late into October, hopefully you reserved plenty in your share while they are available. After several frosts on the plants, we turn our attention to removing the tomato stakes in the rows, picking up the irrigation lines and mulch so we can disc all the vines into the soil, and planting cover crops.

Cover crops are foundational in our regenerative farming system. The wheat/ rye/ vetch seed mixes we use will germinate quickly with the available soil moisture and optimum temperatures and grow steadily well into winter. Think about it this way. We sow two or three fifty pound sacks of seeds on the freshly tilled soil to generate tens of thousands of pounds of biomass to feed next year’s veggies. The growing crop that covers the soil will prevent the soil from erosion, and our soil microbial partners proliferate, an example of carbon sequestration at its finest. The solar powered plants feed their roots- the roots feed the microbes- the microbes in turn feed the roots- that feed the leaves- that protect the soil. What we taketh away in the form of tomatoes or squash, we put back by planting cover crop seeds.

The fall squash is coming into the shed free of dirt or mud, unlike last year, but we still run them through the brush washer to get leaf debris off before storage. They are graded for size and quality giving each squash a better chance at storing longer.  Seemingly the hot, dry September kept foliar diseases at bay, because the skins are firm and blemish-free compared to previous years, giving us optimism for a long shelf life. Be sure to try the new, cute, Honeynut butternut squash. Developed by a chef in coordination with a seed company, they are easy to handle, unintimidating, awesome tasting, and a single serving signal of fall. I also believe this is the best Delicata crop we have ever seen.

As I mentioned last time, we held off digging sweet potatoes until this past week, which also happened to be the first non-CSA week since early May. There is always great anticipation to the unearthing of this crop each October. Suffice it to say, we are quite pleased and you can rest easy, the tubers sized up well over the past 2 to 3 weeks, and the skins are tight and firm. To preserve this quality we lay them out on trays to wash each and every one with a 2000psi sprayer nozzle. The cleaner they are the better they will keep once they are cured. The trays are stacked to allow them to air dry before rolling the pallets into the curing room, where they will spend two days at 90ish degrees, to set the skin. This curing process is crucial to maintain quality long into winter. When they come out of the curing room, they are graded by variety and size, while seconds are set aside for our farm and home kitchens. The Japanese Mursaki variety is almost a fluorescent purple this year, while the Garnet and Burgundy are a rich red color, and the Orleans a bright orange color. We are about half way into the harvest and there seems to be less fingerlings, which is better for us, but they’ll be less for those folks that have developed a liking to the small finger size.

This type of weather is prime time for leafy greens. They are still somewhat shell shocked from the scorching they took in September, but are coming out of it. The chilly temperatures to come may actually improve their flavor. The leaves grow slower in the cooler weather but the days are still long enough for photosynthesis to pack them with lots sugars and flavor. We are standing by with row cover blankets to protect them when the really frigid temperatures arrive. With the row covers, we get an additional 3-5 degrees of protection for them, which means we can harvest them well into December, usually. If the days are warm and sunny, we remove the covers to allow the plants to get the direct rays of the sun and allow the soil to heat a bit more. Then they get put back on at night. A lot of work doing this several times weekly, but when snow, ice and cold arrive, you’ll be glad that we made the effort. The high tunnels are planted on schedule for dead of winter harvesting, if all goes well.

Turkey time is not far off, so secure the bird that is right for you. With so much attention being paid to the center of the plate, be sure your offering matches your values. Our birds are raised in the great outdoors, allowed to exhibit their natural behaviors like running around flapping their wings and having fun, flying up to roost at night, chasing grasshoppers, and scratching in the dirt. No pesticides were released into the environment, anywhere, to grow their feed. We know this is how you would like it to be. You, our customers, have helped preserve the heritage breeds we maintain with our breeding flock. It is not cheap or easy to raise these magnificent creatures, but it seems like the right thing to do. Thanks for your support. Contact the farm to reserve the size and type of turkey you want for your family’s Thanksgiving.

As you can tell, October is a busy yet rewarding time of year for us. Much of our hard work all summer comes to fruition in the fall. Before you know it, the snow will be flying and the nights will be long. It feels good to have the fields seeded down, the shed full of veggies, and the high tunnels green and growing. We do realize that we couldn’t do it all without you and your partnership with the farm. As we settle into winter, please enjoy the fruits of our labor, and eat up! – Mac Stone

In Your Share

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Cabbage, Savoy
  • Celery
  • Chard, Rainbow
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Onions, Green
  • Pepper, Bell
  • Squash, Delicata
  • Squash, Honeynut
  • Squash, Spaghetti
  • Surprise Me!
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes, Colorful
  • Tomatoes, Salad


Check out our Pinterest board for this week’s recipes!

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