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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Harvesting a Winter Share

We here at Boulder Belt Eco-Farm have been doing the CSA (community Supported Agriculture) thing for over 12 years and for the past 4 years we have done a Winter Share. This year's winter group is quite small at 5 members. In past years we generally have 10 to 15 members and I was really hoping to do 20 this year. But due to the drought that hit us this past summer our winter storage crop harvest, especially the winter squash, was badly compromised. And it also made it very hard to do the late summer and early fall planting we must do in order to have crops to harvest in December and January.

We did a lot of hand watering this past fall and we ran the irrigation system a lot more than we were comfortable with (all water, including the water we use for household stuff comes from the same well-we do not want it run dry, ever). But it all paid off and we have been successful in growing enough food for our 5 Winter Share families (but not much more than that)

Eugene is harvesting Broccoli Raab (which taste nothing like broccoli, FYI) For the winter share. I picked most of it but since I own the camera I take the pictures. The purple leaves are rainbow kale. Normally the harvested leaves would be washed, than refrigerated before being bagged but our washing facilities are outside so in winter we generally skip washing and have no need to get the field heat off of the crops (if anything they need to be thawed) so they can go from field to bagging in one step.

Same broccoli Raab bed with the cover being put back on. We use row covers inside the hoop houses because it gives another layer of protection to the crops to keep them from freezing. Unfortunately the two row covers and being inside the hoop house was not enough for the broccoli raab and there was a lot of frost damaged leaves that had to be taken off the plants and tossed out. This is always the risk with winter growing-bad frost damage. We do try to avoid this by planting cold hardy crops, using row covers and hoop houses and putting heat sinks in the houses such as gallon milk jugs filled with water, 50 gallon containers filled with water, etc..

One of two beds of leeks. The leeks will survive out side of a hoop house but we have found the quality is a lot better (by orders of magnitude) and inside the hoop houses it is warm which means the soil is not frozen so we can get them out of ground. Even in the hoop house the leeks come out of the ground muddy and have to be cleaned up. I don't wash leeks as washing seems to bring down the quality. instead I cut off the roots (where most of the mud resides) and than I strip off the outer layers which are dieing off, et voila! Clean leeks. Our Winter Share members got 2 leeks each.

One of the two spring mix beds. This one has the mustard greens-arugula, mizuna, tat soi, etc..

The lettuce side of the spring mix. In winter due more to under 9 hours of day light rather than cold, the plants go almost dormant (if it is really cold and dry they will go completely dormant in Jan and Feb) which means very very slow growth. this means in order to harvest in order to sell the crops a couple of things must happen. One, the crops have to be planted at the optimal time so they are well established and at the size you need. With some things like spring mix the plants can be either too small or too big. With other things like broccoli raab and kale you want to avoid the plants being too small or there will not be much to harvest. Two you need to plant more than you would in spring/summer/fall because things are not growing much if at all so in order to get enough to harvest you plant more area.

Now this works very well in early to mid winter but in late winter we get our light back and the hoop houses get really warm, especially on sunny days so even though it may be a cold snowy March day outside the hoop houses, inside it is May and things are growing great guns and all that over planting so necessary in the depths of winter becomes too much of a good thing. So our solution is to simply move the hoop houses off of such crops and on to other things and that gives the over abundant crops a good dose of weather reality and they tend to slow way down.

In the end we were able to harvest enough spring mix for 6 big bags of salad (that would be almost 1/2 pound). 5 went to the winter share members and 1 went to us. We also harvested beets and chard from the 3rd hoop house but I took no pictures, even though the chard was very beautiful.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter Kale

As long time readers know we do season extension and one of our annual goals is to harvest all 12 months of the year.I don't know if this will be possible in the winter of 2011 but at this point in the season it is looking good. I present to you rainbow kale

Here we have a bed of kale that took two of us about 1/2 hour to clear the snow and ice from so we could take the row cover off of the bed

Freshly harvested winter kale for our CSA members

Here we have a row cover that is too narrow. This is because when we took it off the snow had collapsed the hoops that were supposed to be holding the covers off the ground and kale. But several inches of snow and ice flattened the hoops so when we got the covers off we reset the hoops and added more and found that the covers had frozen in such a way that they were too narrow to cover the hoops/bed. So we fiddled with the covers for a half hour and got most of the edges loose so that the covers would cover the area. One of the many differences between winter growing and farming the rest of the year

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Christmas Present

Eugene asked me a few days ago if I wanted to know what he was working on for my Christmas present and I said no, I wanted to wait until Christmas to see the surprise that should have been built years ago (and I must say when he said it was something that he should have made years ago that did get my curiosity up).

So yesterday (Christmas Eve) we were in the barn and Eugene told me to follow him into the seed room. I had kind of forgotten about the Christmas surprise he had been building and thought he wanted to show me the onion progress (as we had just been talking about the onions). So I followed him into the room and lo and behold there was the big Surprise-A heat table so we can start more seedlings and get better and quicker germination. I am so stoked!

The heat/seed starting table. You can see it is a table with sides and has sand in it. The sand is a wonderful medium to grab heat and spread it out (i.e. an insulator). Plus it will absorb any water that gets on it. There are a couple of layers of plastic (which are 6 mil greenhouse film remnants). the flat with soil cones is there just to check temperatures ranges, there are no seeds in that soil

The Thermostat. I believe there is now a thermometer involved which is important as these heat tables can cook seeds and seedlings if not properly monitored.

A heat cable under sand and plastic

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sunday, December 05, 2010

2010 Carrots

We grow carrots and find they do much better if planted in the summer and harvested in the fall. Spring planted carrots tend to be small, bitter and full of carrot maggot damage. Not something we want to sell , nor people want to buy and eat. But the fall carrots tend to be huge, sweet and virtually damage free.

This summer/fall we had a drought which meant no rain for months on end (okay 2 months but still plural) so the carrots had to be hand watered (we did not put irrigation drip tape on the beds for some reason-I think because it was so hot and humid and so many other things had to be irrigated that it simply did not get done). In August we were quite certain, even with being watered by hand 3x to 4x a week that the carrots, at best, would be small, woody roots with bad flavor. That all the work we were doing (this hand watering took two of us about 4 hours a day to do and that was in addition to of all the other chores one must do to keep a market farm up and working) was likely to be for naught.

So we were surprised when in October Eugene started digging the carrots and they were marvelous-large, colorful roots with great flavor (that got better and better the colder it got). And since they were planted in summer and during a drought there was virtually no insect damage (likely due to the fact the maggot flies that lay eggs on the roots which hatch into nasty carrot maggots which in turn make tunnels through the top 1/3 of the carrots, quit breeding due to lack of water). By colorful I mean exactly that-we grow several colors of carrots in addition to the classic orange. As a matter of fact we grow 3 other colors, red, white (which is really a light yellow or ivory color) and yellow. The varieties are Yellowstone (yellow), Purple Haze (red) nelson and Bolero (orange) and White Satin (white, d'uh!). I find the white and yellow carrots have the best taste of the 4 colors-they are the sweetest.

We also discovered that the white and yellow carrots are the most drought tolerant of the 4 colors we grow. They really did not care that they were water starved, they got big and beautiful despite hardship. The red carrots, on the other hand, did not respond well at all to the drought. The survivors (we estimate that at least 50% either did not germinate at all or died young) were small but do have great flavor. The orange varieties did okay in spite of the drought but would have done much much better had we had average rainfall and did not get quite as big as the yellow and white varieties.

In the end, we harvested and cleaned around 150 pounds (plus another 200+ pounds already dug and sold) on Thursday and Friday of this past week. Had we not had a drought we would have gotten at least 4x that amount from 8 50' x 4' beds