Now that the rainy days of May are gone, and the humid, dusty days of June are here, it is really feeling like Summer. Despite the May 14th hail damage, it doesn’t appear that our tomatoes will be late. We think perhaps our switch to Vermont Compost potting soil might even be pushing them a little early. We start our earliest tomatoes in mid-February, so we don’t ever get fruit until July, and we’re not expecting any until then. But some of the cherry tomatoes have some full-size green fruit on them, so we’d better keep our eye out for color while we’re stringing them up.
We start thousands of seedlings every year in our greenhouse; this year is no exception! Many of them are destined for our fields, but nearly half of them are grown specifically for your gardens. We choose tried and true varieties of vegetables and herbs for our garden starts, grow them up ecologically in our wonderful new potting soil from Vermont Compost, and sell them in their prime. Buying plant starts is a great way to kick start your garden, grow successions of things like zucchini and lettuce, and to try several varieties at once. We think about seeding in February so you don’t have to! And we are always happy to pass on tips or help you with your garden planning, so come with questions!
You can find our plant starts at the following local plant sales:
- Ruritan Plant Sale on Sunday April 22 (Earth Day!) at the Rockfish Valley Community Center, 9 am – 3 pm
- Devil’s Backbone Brewery Plant Sale Sunday May 6 (the weekend before Mother’s Day!), 9 am – 3 pm.
- From now until June at the Charlottesville City Market on Saturdays 7 am – 12 pm, at the Lexington market 8 am-12:30 pm, which starts this Wednesday April 18, and at the Nelson market, which starts Saturday May 5, 8 am to 12 pm.
- On our farm, by appointment
We look forward to seeing you there!
In mid-February, right after my birthday, Ben gets the greenhouse started. Every Monday, he seeds a new round of flats. The flats are germinated in the house, either in a cool guest room, or in a closet we have newly outfitted with a space heater and metal shelving. Some seeds, like tomatoes, germinate best in the heat, others, like lettuce, in the cool. Once the first seed leaves show themselves, the flat gets whisked out to the greenhouse where the sun shines. We heat the greenhouse, but only barely; we want our plants to be hardened and ready for chilly spring conditions, so we only heat enough to keep the nights in the forties.
New this year, we’re trying for some fall broccoli. Even the best broccoli farmer I know says that there’s only a 70% chance of broccoli every year, but we found the space to give it a shot. Another new crop this year is celery, which we’re looking at as sort of an experiment. From what we’ve read, Virginia’s climate is borderline too hot for celery, which takes a long time to grow but prefers cooler weather and plenty of water. We made some irrigation improvements last year, and we found a space for it close to the edge of a field where it will receive some morning shade, which may help it keep cool. So if we get some celery or broccoli that we like the looks of, they will make it into our CSA share, and show up at market!
It is not to late to join our CSA! Bring the fruits of our labors into your home, and sign up now–we would love to have you!
In December, when the seed catalogues start arriving in the mail, I begin to think about the coming year’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program. Managing a CSA properly means planning for a diverse assortment of crops in each box. We don’t want to deliver a box with 10 pounds of summer squash in it and nothing else (though there are weeks when I could do that!). Of course, summer squash is one of the “anchors” of our CSA, along with tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, so we attempt to plant and harvest continuous successions of these anchor crops. So when I peruse the seed catalogues by the woodstove, sipping my morning cup of coffee, I am searching for a few untried but promising varieties of each important crop to add variety and keep things interesting both for me and our CSA members. And every year we like to try a completely new crop. In 2018 we are excited to try our hand growing celery and black-eyed peas.
By choosing to join our CSA program, you choose to support our farm in the winter, when the most important work is mental, rather than physical. In the summer, we pay back your investment in our farm with the fruits of our physical labor. But winter is the time for mental labor, as I look over the 2017 field maps to plan the 2018 maps, deciding what the landscape of tomato stakes and bean trellises will look like. And when I am imagining the shape of the coming season, you become part of my mental landscape as well. I am motivated by the thought of you opening your box, marveling at some variety of radish you have never seen before. I love thinking about you sharing the fruits of our labor with your friends and loved ones.
Our CSA runs for 19 weeks, from June through October, and is available for pickup on Wednesdays in Charlottesville, in Lexington, and at our farm. Please visit our CSA page for more details and to sign up now!
[Follow-up to Growing cover crops as if they are cash crops] Now that we’ve tilled in that buckwheat and planted radishes, turnips, bok choi, arugula, and other mustard greens there, we can give you an update on the experience. The buckwheat worked well–we mowed it at the right time, just as it was flowering but before it set seed, and I used the discs on the same day, which helped break up the roots and cover up the mowed buckwheat to speed decomposition. Our discs are a little wimpy (but we got them for free–thanks Janet and Rob!) so I was worried they wouldn’t tear up the roots, but the soil looked fluffy and loose and the buckwheat was totally dead when I was finished. Then we waited a week and I disked again, and then a week later I rototilled for a nice flat seed bed, as we were direct seeding, not transplanting. There were some buckwheat stems still visible in the soil, but they didn’t slow down the precision seeder. The seeding was quick and easy.
That’s the good news. The medium news is that the sorghum-sudan grass is a little out of control. Seeding it in a mix with buckwheat worked well; we mowed the patch when the buckwheat started to flower and the sudan grass was still little. Well, at least we mowed where we could. The patch neighbours a melon planting whose vines had spilled over into the cover cropped area, so there was nothing we could do without damaging our melons. (Note to selves: plant sprawly viney things next to things that don’t need to be mowed!) So now we have tall woody grass that is trying to flower, which is bad–we don’t need another weed in the fields–so this week Heather went through and cut off the flower heads by hand. We will still have to deal with all of the slow-to-break-down plant material come fall, but luckily we tried sorghum-sudan grass in a non-crucial area of our fields, so (hopefully) it won’t slow us down too much next year. (Thanks to Michael and Arden of Great Day Gardens for the sudan grass seed–we promise we will try it again!)
And then there is the bad news: the area that didn’t get a cover crop at all, and, predictably, grew up in weeds. Just as predictably, that field looked really trashy even after I chisel plowed (that’s a deep plow that breaks up roots and compaction without turning over the soil) and disced twice. The weeds had grown tall and deep-rooted, and then they flowered, so their carbon-to-nitrogen ratio changed to favor more carbon, which doesn’t break down quickly. So we’ll most likely be kicking ourselves when we transplant kohlrabi into that bed in a couple weeks because we’ll have to move aside plant residues to get to actual soil.
So while we feel like we did a better job this year than last, this mixed bag of experiences serves to motivate us to continue to try to improve our crop succession planning for next year. We clearly still have a lot to learn.
About three inches of snow fell last night. Coarse, wet, heavy spring snow. On nights like these Ben and I tag-team through the night to keep the high tunnel and greenhouse free of snow. He stays up to the wee hours, and then sets an early morning alarm for me.
This morning, the greenhouse looked like an abandoned museum exhibit, with the dim first rays filtering through the poly walls to settle on the gossamer row cover draped over our seedlings. Many of them are garden starts to sell at our first markets in April. There are tomatoes, of course, and lettuce, and three generations of basil, herbs and flowers. But there are farm seedling there too. All of the farm eggplants and peppers have been seeded, most of the spring brassicas, our first tomatoes, and our chard. We will seed more today–our second generation of farm lettuce, the first dill, and flowers for sales, including, incredibly, the first sunflowers.
This last night, the snowy one, was the first that we dared to leave all of our cold-sensitive seedings out in the greenhouse. Last week we risked first one flat, then four, before we felt confident enough in our wood stove and the little electric heater under the bench. There is no perfect solution; either we carry sensitive flats in every night, disturbing roots, exposing them to our next clumsy move, and depriving the plants of the first rays of the sun, or we risk that cold, or chilling injury, sets them back.
There are also seedlings in the bakery. Yesterday the rye sprouted, and today, wheat. I am working on developing a dense, Danish-style dark pan bread, which is a complete departure from most of the bread I make. I am going for toothy, dark, and moist, a bread that makes a meal with bit of smoked trout and dill. It is recipe-development time at Little Hat Creek Farm. I’m learning the behavior of flours from Carolina Ground and Woodson’s mill, tweaking current recipes, and increasing my repertoire of skills. This will be the first sprouted grain I have tried. Last week I experimented with fermenting flaked grains before mixing them into dough, which resulted in an impossibly tender crumb in the barley almond bread.
So go ahead and snow old man, you can’t stop the force of spring that has begun. It may look, and feel, like winter out there, but the true story is told by the first daffodil two days ago, the expanding buds on our Nanking cherries, and the little peepers peeping their spring song.