We are at the end of the season. Reflecting on things, I think we’ve really turned a corner. This is our fifth season vegetable farming on our own, and up to this point each season seemed like a huge battle. I typically get all anxious and stressed by July and completely burnt out by mid-September, but not this year. I think this has happened because we’ve let past seasons get ahead of us, so we’ve played a lot of catch up, which is very frustrating because in vegetable farming you never catch up. We have gotten into the catch-up game because we’ve not had the equipment, set-up, or general organization to stay on top of things in the past. One example is cultivation, where you mechanically kill weeds by tilling the soil. In past seasons, we ended up doing a lot of hand weeding or cultivation with a wheel hoe because the weeds got too tall or we simply didn’t have the cultivation equipment set up in time or on-hand. This year, we cultivated most plantings twice at the right time, so we had a lot more time to spend on other things which needed attention. Add this to all the other little improvements we’ve been making over the years, and that’s why I say we’ve really turned a corner from a farm start-up with all the problems that entails, to a somewhat established farm, where, as long as you keep up with a routine day-in and day-out, the season works out.
Other accomplishments have been building and starting up the farm stand and getting into a few new crops like dried flowers, a new mix of winter squash, and some oddities like broom corn, daikon, and some new heirlooms. A lot of the fun of what we do is trying new things. Some are good, and some are terrible, so we keep the best for next season and drop the rest. We also try new techniques to improve how we do things. Like this year I rigged up a new way of trellising where I use a big spool of twine set in a school backpack to make the task go quicker and with less frustration. We also used some remay cover cloths more to keep out bugs and get a crop to grow better, which made a real difference. Also this is the first year we’ve successfully used a cover crop of rye and vetch, so we’ll see what difference that makes on the fertility of field next year. Like vegetable varieties, we keep what works and keep fine-tuning production.
Lastly, thank you so much for being members this season! We cannot do what we do without you. Certainly the fee you pay keeps us in business, but the support we hear and receive from you means a lot. It’s extremely helpful to know that we are part of a community.
We’ve had a couple of events recently at the farm, which is out of the ordinary for Maree and me. Typically it’s rare for us to have visitors besides our families, so it was great to have the harvest party last Sunday and equally cool to host the early childhood kids tonight (Thursday). We had a good number of people out for the harvest party—if you were unable to make it, please stop by and I’ll re-give the tour and you can pick a pumpkin. Too often farming is such a solitary existence where you grow something for people you will never meet. I had such a good feeling to see “our” community gathered together in our machine shed, just eating good food and enjoying others company. Special thanks to member Ruth Sollie for the picture!
Tonight was a different, although equally rewarding experience. We hosted the early childhood classes in Pelican Rapids, which annually do a “pumpkin patch” outing for 1-5 year olds and their parents. I had been working like a dog since 8 am trying to pull in as much produce as possible since I expect a frost tomorrow morning and I was a bit in a daze when I watched car after car after car pull into our driveway. This thing was bigger than I expected. And, with about 40 little kids running around, it was a real whirlwind event. I took everybody on a hayride to the pumpkin patch in the front field and there were so many that I had to take two trips. On the hayride it was a lot of fun to stop and quiz the kids about the different vegetables. Going with my theme about connection, like the harvest party, I found the event really rewarding. I figured this may be one of those few times when kids can really get on a farm and learn about where their food comes from. We need kids to connect with farms if we expect younger generations to know of anything other than Taco Bell, Cheetos, or Coke.
As we approach the end of the season, we start playing the good/bad crop game. When you’re cleaning up a bed of one crop at the end of the year, you can’t help but judge how the year went. So, kind of like the Oscars for vegetables, we have the good, the bad, and the ugly for the year.
• Peppers: Hey I was just in the entryway where we have a few bushels of peppers and I can still smell them…great. Now that a number are turning colors, these clearly go into the good category. Not only did we have a lot, but they were a good size too…last year the Italias looked like big jalapelos or something.
• Salad mix: I’m finally getting the hand of growing this stuff well. We should have had a second planting for mid-season, but the stuff we put in the box looked great.
• Spring brassicas: this is the cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, and cauliflower at the beginning of the season. The cool wet spring worked well for these crops. What was most impressive is how long the spring bassica season lasted…you probably got sick of broccoli or cabbage at some point there!
• Tomatoes: a surprise here. Although it has taken forever for them to ripen, the plants set a lot of fruit and they look in good shape.
• Garlic: A real disappointment because I just go crazy for a good garlic crop. These plants do not grow well in a mud puddle like they had to this season.
• Green onions: This is in the bad category because it was the crop that never happened…do you ever remember getting green onions? They got planted first thing in the spring but that entire patch got overrun with weeds and I never got another succession planted—you can also put cilantro in this camp too.
• Head lettuce: After last season when we had a bumper crop, the lettuce was worthless. The window of lettuce was short and a lot bolted before it came of size.
• Melons: There’s been a whole lot of ugliness here. The main factor is all of those cucumber beetles, who attack the plants and kill them off mid-season and then chew up the fruit if it starts to grow. Ugly.
• Second set of cucumbers: in part due to those pesky cucumber beetles and the new ground, this second planting put on nothing but deformed cukes. The timing was right to take over when the first planting pettered out, but they were too ugly to use.
All told, I can’t complain too much about the season. The weather was funny, but things still got produced and I know we improved on last year overall even if some crops did worse. Since you have to be optimistic in this line of work, what we do is ask ourselves how we can improve for next year.