Fall is here which means the summer of 2009 is officially history. It was a really good summer growing and marketing season for us. the weather was cool and for the most part dry. but when we did get rain it was generally a lot and at just the right time. Still we are down over 4" on rain for the year but perhaps this fall will be wetter than normal and we will make it up.
We grew the best melons ever (and Eugene is an excellent melon grower). Maybe 2% of them were not absolutely excellent. we had several customers (and these are people who's opinions about such things I respect) tell us that our water melons were the best they have ever eaten.
The alliums out did themselves again this year, meaning they are better this year than last and last year they were incredible. Sublime garlic, gigantic leeks (and so far, all we have harvested are the small fall leeks, the winter leeks which should be 2x to 3x larger won't be ready for another month or so), beautiful onions and wonderful scallions.
The tomatoes, despite the plants succumbing to some sort of local blight (not late blight but rather something we contend with every year) fairly early, still produced a lot of huge fruits. Or at least most of them did. We did have some failures such as Black Krim which gave us few very cat faced fruits. I believe we got about 4 usable maters from 15 plants. I do not believe we will grow these again. The Paul Robeson did not do well for us but when the plants did produce typical fruit it produced some gorgeous tomatoes. I saved seed early on and this will get a second chance. The Green Zebra was something else-I believe a small red saladette type mater, something we have far too many of already. Baker Creek messed up on that and as this was about the 7th time they have messed up with us, we will not be ordering from them in 2010. I do like their philosophy but they will have to do far better with selling us correct seed, good seed and getting orders to us in a timely fashion. There are several other seed houses that do heirlooms that give us better service such as Seed Savers Exchange.
Ah enough ranting, back to maters. The great White tomato, while a bad seller, was a great producer of beautiful ivory white fruits with a good acid bite. they came on early and produced longer than just about anything else except early girls which, while early and prolific were a bit of a disappointment this year. The early girls were not as big as last year and found the flavor lacking. fortunately we had GL-18 (AKA Glick's Pride) as our mainstay red mater and they far exceeded our expectations. they were far bigger than they have been before. The shape was about perfect and they rarely cracked and had zero cat facing. It would have been nice if they could have held on a week or two longer but they got us through most of September and we had big red maters when no one else did at the farmers market, cha-ching!. The other reds we grew-the canners did really well for us but I don't think as well as last year (or was it two years ago?). We grew Amish paste and Opalka again. The Amish paste out produced the Opalka about 4:1. We grew enough of these to make and can ourselves plenty of tomato sauce, ratatouille and salsa plus we sold about 300 pounds to others so they could put up tomatoes.
The cherry tomatoes were only so so (which is actually a good thing since when they do really well that means someone has to spend several hours daily picking them and than we have to figure out what to do with the excess). We have decided never to grow green grape again since it does not sell. This means it will produce hundreds of volunteers all over the farm in the future. It is hard to get people to try the green maters. Though it seems when I can get someone to try a green grape they get hooked quickly. they are a very nice mater but for most it is hard to get past the color. The yellow pear barely produced and a lot of them were green again this year. I think it is time to get new seed. the Sun sugar did well for about 3 weeks than quit producing much and the plants now look like hell. This is good as everyone at the farmers market(s) grew this kind this year so the market was flooded and sales were way down. I think next year we will cut back a lot on the cherry tomatoes. We do not need all that many for the farm share-maybe 20 to 30 plants and it seems they have become passe at market. that will free up beds for something else next year.
Unlike last year, we have a lot of ripe peppers. Last year the peppers were very late and we got a killing frost before they got ripe. It did not help that on Sept 14th 2008 we had hurricane force winds for about 6 hours that knocked down all the pepper plants. This year things are completely different. We have a lot of huge bell peppers and they are getting ripe well before it gets cold. I have also learned to take them off the plants when they show color and they ripen up just fine indoors away from pests and diseases that tend to ruin about 50% of the ripe peppers (which is why red, yellow and orange (ripe) peppers cost twice as much as green peppers).
the raspberries out did themselves again this season. The Lathams, our early summer raspberry, was spectacular again. Heavy production and excellent quality. My only complaint was we did a piss poor job of pruning in the early spring which made parts of the raspberry patch almost impossible to harvest. Next year I am cutting back a lot more than Eugene will deem necessary (he has a problem with thinning out plants and wants to leave a lot more than should be left). The Heritage raspberries, which we mow down in early spring, had quite good production and the flavor has been sublime, far better than the Lathams (which, as I said were excellent). Eugene has this crazy notion that we should let the heritage grow and produce in spring. I have this crazy idea that he can do all the harvesting as well as tilling, seeding, transplanting and other spring chores if this happens. You see we do not need a second kind of spring raspberry when the Lathams are pumping out over 30 gallons of fruit. As it is we do not sell all the Lathams produce (we come close but in order to get rid of them we have to sell in bulk and drop the price 33%). We do sell pretty much 100% of the Late summer berries and if we allow the Heritage to have 2 crops we will lessen the fall yield by about 60% and not have enough for the FSI, store and farmers market in August and September. In other words, Eugene's idea of more spring/summer berries is a bad one on many levels.
The strawberries have not been the best. I don't think we have them in the best place and they need to be replaced this fall with new day neutral berries. the yields have been down and disease problems up. We did get a very nice crop of April may berries because we put a hoop house over them. Granted, the hoop house got nailed twice in the winter-once by heavy wet snow and than a month later by high winds. But neither incident seemed to have any effect on the berry production. it is ironic that the first year the berries have been less than great we do a farm tour and in November a workshop on sustainable berry production. I will say the farm tour attendees did not seem to care what kind of shape the berries were in. Next season we should have a new crop of berries in a new and better spot and hopefully we will be swimming strawberries all spring summer and fall next year.
The greens have been around all season. In spring we had lots of lettuce, spring mix, arugula, kale and various Asian greens. Summer we lost the lettuce-we did try to grow some several times because it was cool most of the summer but every time we started lettuce we would get 5 to 8 days of heat and humidity, always a week or two after germination and that would cause the baby lettuce to get bitter and bolt to seed. now that it is autumn we have several beds of nice lettuce growing as well as volunteers coming up around the market garden. the same thing happened with spring mix. After late June it got impossible to grow it though we did try. We did get several harvests of arugula for our efforts through the summer but nothing else from the spring mix beds. Kale and chard were the summer mainstay greens, they always are.
Broccoli did badly for us but we did get some decent cabbages. I dunno why we have such problems with broccoli, perhaps we should quit growing it. Spring radishes were hit and miss and the early red meat radishes were a complete failure. But we do have a 1/2 bed of them now that are very nice. We got really nice early rutabagas as well as red turnips. the fall red turnips are ready to harvest and store for winter, though it will be early next week before that will happen.
Finally, the Farm Share Initiative has been a great thing for us. It allowed us drop a farmers market and make more money while being allowed to stay home and get more work done. Definitely a win, win for us and the fact very few people seemed to notice there is no longer a Tuesday evening market in Oxford (maybe 10 people have asked about this this summer) tells me that we would have made less money this year than last at that market. So it is good that we are doing the FSI.
I think I will change a few things on how the FSI is run next season. This season I allowed members to sign up for the entire season but pay monthly. That will stop as it is not fair to the members that ponied up the cash for the entire season upfront. And the members who did this have all dropped out for the last month, not good. They also got a few extra weeks as I was treating them like the paid in full members as I expected them to go through the entire season. I think the monthly farm tour/pot luck will go as well since we only were able to hold two this year mostly because of a lack of interest on the part of most of the members. I think a once a year farm tour/pot luck will suffice. I am having a hard time getting it through to the members that farm visits are a very important aspect of the farm share/CSA experience. This is how one connects to their farm and without farm visits one might as well buy their food from the farmers market. I also think it is time to drop the month to month deal. This has the potential of getting very confusing which will lead to mistakes -especially when the FSI grows to more than 30 members. It will be replaced by what I used call "Share Cycles" where I break the season down into 2 or 3 month increments for those who cannot do an entire season for whatever reason.
Well, that's the summery of our summer