Slipping into the greenhouse these days, you will be rewarded with a quilt of colors, textures and aromas. The red lettuces catch your eye—ruby gems among a sea of every shade of green. And the texture and structure differences, from spiky onions to bold cucumber cotyledons, encourage you to look more closely. You can almost taste the Sungold tomatoes, still just tiny plant starts.
There is so much potential in these little plants. Let’s look at what’s in store for the start of another growing season.
The seemingly random pattern of the plants in the greenhouse is too wonky to describe here. Each rectangular tray holds 200 seedlings, if they all germinate. We calculate the number of plants we need per harvest and seed that many trays, plus a few extras for good measure and optimism or in case somebody drops a tray on the way to plant it in the field.
Every year, we have our workhorse vegetable varieties that grow well and taste great. From there, we expand our planting plans with varieties that we want to try again and those newly developed by organic seed farmers.
Seasoned CSA Farm Share members are already looking forward to the beets John sowed into the field a few weeks back. The classic beet is the round red ball or cylinder shape. When roasted or steamed to tenderness, they are pure heaven. The gold and the pink and white striped Chioggia varieties have that same luxurious taste without the residual red effect. We plant lots of all of them, and I can’t wait for their harvest.
Carrots are a crop we have been focusing on. Last year was our best carrot year ever, and that confidence boost has made us go all in on carrots this year. Our Maury silt loam soil is conducive for carrot growing, and still the carrots take a long time to mature. Fresh in a salad or steamed or sautéed with other veggies, they bring the flavor, not just the color. They are worth the wait.
The winter harvest of greens in high tunnel 2 is over, so John tilled the residual plant material into the soil in preparation for our planting of early tomatoes. These Sungold cherry tomatoes and pink and black slicing heirloom tomatoes will live inside the high tunnel, with its protective plastic cover, when it is still too cold to plant tomatoes outside, giving us—and our CSA shareholders—a head start on tomato season. The bulk of the tomato crop will be planted out in the first-year field of our cropping rotation system, but these early plants get all the glory for being first. Double rows of lettuce transplants sometimes are planted between the wide rows of high tunnel tomatoes to be harvested and eaten before the tomato plants grow big enough to shade them out.
Seed potatoes are in the packing shed awaiting planting. These came to us from an organic seed-potato farmer in Maine. For me, that first potato out of the ground ranks right up there with that first tomato of the season. A new potato’s essence is earthy. Butter makes it better, and salt and pepper bring out the flavor even more. The pallet of 50-pound seed-potato bags will some day be bins and bins of red and white and gold and purple potatoes. With the potential for temperatures in the lower twenties—even in the teens here later this week—we are safeguarding what we have and planting after the weather breaks.
As soon as we can after this predictable early April cold snap, we will go to the field with several varieties of good-sized broccoli, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard and lettuce transplants to be enjoyed in the coming months. We will also direct-seed most of the same things for a subsequent harvest.
While it will be a while before all these fresh vegetable goodies cross these lips, I can practically taste each and every one from my past relationships with them. These veggies are not just part of my life, they are part of me, even make me who I am. Farmers are eternal optimists. We wake up early to optimize the potential for all these little seeds to become so palatable. —Mac Stone