Early July check-in

(CSA Newsletter: Main Season Week 6)

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Carrots — Hoorah! The carrot season has begun! Today’s variety is called ‘Mokum,’ especially special to use because that’s also the name of one of our cats! (Our other cat is named ‘Nelson,’ after another carrot variety you’ll receive later this month.)
  • Garlic scapes — Also called garlic ‘whistles,’ scapes are the top that grows from some garlic varieties and will eventually flower. By picking it before it flowers, we send a message to the bulb below to grow bigger and get a tasty early garlic treat. At this stage, the scapes are tender and delicious from the bottom of the stem to the base of the forming flower bud (the bud itself is slightly tougher — useful in stocks but not for direct eating). Use the scapes as you might garlic in any meal: chopped and sautéed or in a dish. Or, try chopping into longer segments, blanching or steaming and adding to a green or pasta salad. Or, blanch and then toss in garlic and salt and throw the entire thing on the grill (as you might do with asparagus) — yummy!
  • Sugar snap peas — The pea harvest continues in profusion. Perhaps we’ll be eating peas all July? Let’s hope so! We’ve been enjoying these raw as a sweet snack on hot afternoons.
  • Swiss chard — Green chard — the same variety you received a few weeks ago.
  • Tatsoi — The last of the tasty Asian greens for this spring/summer. The end of these greens certainly marks the beginning of bona fide summer … Enjoy a final leafy-based stir-fry with onions, garlic scapes, peas and tatsoi!
  • Broccoli — More broccoli for you to enjoy!
  • Lettuce — This week’s lettuce is called ‘Winter Density,’ one of our favorite year-round lettuces. It is a cross between a ‘butter’ lettuce and a romaine.
  • Sweet spring onions — A big sweet spring onion for you to use in cooking your greens this week. These spring onions are also mild enough to eat raw on sandwiches or salads.
  • At the beginning of every July, we like to ‘check in’ with the season. By now the spring plantings are usually done (although this year that harvest will continue longer with peas and other yummy things still coming on), and the summer harvest is just beginning. Plus, this is the literal halfway point in the year — six months behind us, six to go before 2009 arrives.

    So, at this year’s halfway point, how do we feel? Mixed emotions. I’m not sure we were mentally or emotionally prepared for such a tough third season. On one hand, we have many systems figured out and some routines are easier than ever — harvesting and washing, for example, which has become highly efficient and mostly painless. But, we still feel overwhelmed by many big things right now.

    Water, of course. Always water. The non-functioning well has been a constant cloud over us these last few weeks, so that certainly colors how we see everything else in the fields as well.

    We’re moving towards progress on this point, hopefully — Monday morning we spoke at length again with a well driller who thinks he can get us up and running again possibly by the end of July. That would be a huge blessing and a major relief.

    Until then, however, I think we’ll continue seeing everything else with worried, critical eyes. Monday’s big worry was over our garlic planting, which had been growing beautifully all winter and early spring only to succumb to a bad case of garlic rust — a fungal infection that may have been exacerbated by the record cold spring and some out-of-control grass weeds in the garlic paths.

    We’re still trying to decide how much of the garlic is salvageable and how we can harvest it while maintaining good field sanitation (we don’t want to infect other parts of the field or crops with the rust spores). A challenging moment, to say the least, even if all ends well.

    In the same vein, we also see scary weed pressure building in many parts of the field: the tomatoes, the early spring crops we have yet to harvest, the perennial field (grass in the paths, just like in the garlic). We need to address these problems spots, which we’re doing as fast as we can, but it’s overwhelming at moments. The weed pressure is significantly increased over last year, which could be for several reasons. The weeds themselves are different: we’re seeing lots of redroot pigweed and lamb’s quarters, neither of which we prevalent last year.

    Both weeds are signs of higher fertility, which might be connected to the application of chicken manure applied to this side of the field in late 2006 by the farmer renting the land. In addition to potentially raising the fertility, we’ve heard of something specifically unique to chicken manure (the pH?) that can germinate this class of weeds.

    Another possibility is our new tillage methods, which ‘stir’ but don’t ‘turn’ the soil. That means that any weed seeds left on the soil surface from last year would be left on the surface again this year to germinate. A potential that’s actually kind of hopeful, seeing as how we could eliminate those seeds through good maintenance this year. But we’re seeing weeds in places where they weren’t present last year, so we’re not sure about that.

    Wherever they’re from, the weeds are there. Along with grass present in the field because we were never able to adequately prep the soil during the cool spring. The two combined inspire many big farmer sighs on a daily basis.

    Again, I’m not sure how we’ll feel about any of these issues if/when we get the well working, but the field work combined with ever increasing demand for veggies at market has us seriously reconsidering this two-person farm concept. This year we do have help at least one morning/day a week from a few farm-loving souls, which we’ve deeply appreciated.

    Their help makes us wonder what we could do with more help. Since we haven’t yet, hiring employees has become a very big deal to us. If we’d hired the first year, it’d be a certain thing, but now we think of it as a potentially defining moment in our farm’s future — for better or for worse.

    So, as we weed and water and harvest, we’re discussing everything we have to balance and what we might be letting fall through the cracks as we address the urgent tasks. I imagine we’ll keep discussing these questions all year.

    But, lest we dwell completely on the negative, our halfway check-in also included some positive notes. For one, we survived another record-setting heat wave this weekend without too much damage. Through Casey’s persistent management, the crops all stayed sufficiently watered, and we managed to do ok too even though Saturday afternoon it was 98° in the shade!

    Two casualties occurred though. First, one of the trees we planted this winter around our homesite fried in the heat (we’ll replant this winter). Second, we lost our first hen ever, possibly due to the heat.

    We found her dead Sunday morning in the fence. Later that evening we also heard a ruckus in the chicken house long after the chickens should have been asleep. When Casey went out to check, he found two skunks in the house and inside the fenced area! The chickens in the house appeared upset but fine.

    Up until now, we’ve had no signs of predation on the chickens, so this was an important reminder. We closed the door to the hen house for the night and plan to move them farther from the slough to a place where the fence will be more effective (there was a lot of tall grass and oats interfering with our electric chicken fence’s functioning, which is how the skunks where able to sneak under).

    Sorry … I’m supposed to be talking about positives and once again got sucked into reporting the upsetting aspects of farm life. Here are a few more positives field notes to end this week’s newsletter on the right tone …

    We ‘trained’ (i.e. trellised) almost all our tomatoes this weekend, and even though they’re behind last year, they look great — healthier than we’ve seen the last two years. The summer squash are almost ready to start picking. Our first basil planting is beautiful, lush, and gorgeous! We weeded the winter squash and sweet potatoes this weekend, and with the heat wave boost, both virtually exploded and look fabulous now! Our first plantings of beans are growing quickly and look vigorous and healthy.

    One thing’s for sure this season. Although we didn’t intend to expand much this year, because of several new planning strategies, we’ve ended up with a lot of vegetables in the field. Today, we’re feeling the burden of taking care of all of them. But we have lots of beautiful produce to share with you all, which also eases that burden. Although we’ll try to stay on top of all of it, there’s enough out there to cushion momentary risks and losses. We are squarely in the season of plenty.

    Happy summer! Have a safe Fourth of July! And, enjoy this week’s vegetables!

    Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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