Strawberrries certainly have their season. They’re so good, all of us at the farm get extremely excited when they first come in. Between jobs, I saunter down to the patch to steal a few berries, and, of course, the kids kind of attack the strawberries in an all-out assult whenever near the garden. The strawberries are like a kid magnet of sorts. Still, after all this excitement, we’ve now hit the point where we can barely look at another one, so it’s good that the season is coming to a close.
Organic strawberries are a real challenge. If you visited, you’d find some towering thistle plants amidst the strawberries. It’s tough because the main crop of berries comes the year after I plant them. But, unlike many other crops, you can’t “clean” the field of weeds in the spring using cultivation. You can weed by hand, but the window to do this is extremely small because strawberry plants will start putting flowers and small berries on early in the season and you don’t want to walk through the patch crushing your potential harvest.
Another trick of the trade is to plant a mix of varieties which have a mix of maturity dates. Right now we are picking from three varieties: Sparkle, Cabot, and Cavendish. I always forget which is which, but one is early season, one is mid-season, and another is late season. In this way we have strawberries longer than if we simply had one variety planted. Having three varieties does make life more complex, however. Picking each of these varieties takes major sampling because each has their own indicators of ripeness. Sparkle can be a dark pink and be ripe, whereas Cabot isn’t ripe until dark red. So, when first picking, I typically eat a few, then pick a few; eat a few, then pick a few, etc. to ensure the best berries reach the box.
For both repeat members and new members, I thought I’d write about a few new developments at the farm in 2008.
First, this May we purchased a walk-in cooler. Although my relatives weren’t to pleased to help me move the 800-pound behemoth from Fargo to the back of our machine shed, I’m really pumped up about using it. It’s pretty small by walk-in cooler standards (6 feet wide, 4 feet deep, 8 feet tall), but it will greatly improve harvest around here. You might be thinking that this will just allow me to pawn off less-fresh produce on you all, but, in actuality, it will allow you to receive better produce. Up to this point, we’ve had to harvest on delivery day or the day before, sometimes picking at less than optimal times. We can now pick beans on a Monday or Tuesday when they are at their optimal size and ripeness instead of waiting a few days too late. Weather also plays a factor…we can pick Thursday morning so we won’t rip up the garden and cover everything in mud during a thunderstorm. Lastly, the cooler will help the produce keep longer. Even if picked on a pretty cool day, all produce retains field heat, which will cause vegetables to go bad very quickly if the core temperature isn’t brought down. Now we hydro-cool most of our produce to get the core temperature down by soaking the veggies in a tub of cool well water, but some time spent in the cooler will help even more.
Second, we brought a new field into production last fall, giving us another ½ acre to play with. We’ve been struggling over the last few years to fit everything in, especially space-hungry crops like squash and pumpkins. Typically we get to the last bed in June and we have 6 or 8 flats of plant that still need to get into the ground. The new field has allowed us to plant a fuller range of squash, including Hubbards and Buttercup—which we’ve never grown before—as well as a whole another succession of corn and more melons.
Third, we’re in process of putting together a farm stand for the end of our driveway. We’re getting some posts and beams from a barn tear down and will putting it together between now and mid-August. I want it to have the “look” of a farm stand and I figure the old recycled timbers will do the trick. Right now it’s still an idea on paper, but I’m excited by the prospect of having a place people can pick up some local produce as well as other local products like honey. So many people travel the Pelican and Vergas area, but don’t have a way to experience our farm landscape, so this will give them a stop. Also, I know of a number of people who would like to pick up some produce here and there, but are not interested in becoming a member like yourself for a whole season, so this will allow them to do that. We’re looking to do a first-year run featuring fall crops this September-October on the weekends only. We’ll see how it goes.
Man, I feel like I just can’t catch a break lately. When an isolated storm came through this week, I figured, what’s the chance. But looking at the TV satellite, I noticed the path was slated to come right over the top of our place. And came it did…bringing not just a heavy rain, but about 10 minutes of hail too. Hail! Every growers nightmare. What’s worse it came with a strong wind, so it cuts through plants even better. Basically this affects some crops more than others. The hardest hit are plants with broad leaves like Swiss Chard and the like…you’ll notice that this salad mix isn’t as beautiful as it was just two days ago (there may be a little “picking through” necessary, so look out). It’s actually good that some plants are not as far along as they should be like peppers; right now they are still just little plants with little foliage to lose…it would have been disastrous if actual peppers were on the plants. All told, it could have been worse.
Anyway, I’m thinking the rest of the season will be on the up and up since we’ve gotten the bad stuff out of the way. The soil around here is very heavy and is finally starting to warm up, which gets the plants growing. Up until our recent heat wave, a number of plants just sat there—not much bigger than when I put them in.