Colored Carrots (yellow, purple, red, or orange varieties, loose in white bag)
Peppers (these are all sweet and not spicy, even the skinny orange ones)
Lemon Basil (large bunch of flowering, fragrant, herb)
Kale (bunch of darker greens)
Belgian Collards (bunch of lighter greens, some still attached to center stem)
Hello CSA members!
Sometimes when people hear that Mimi and I most recently farmed in Alaska, they remark, “Wow, is it a lot more challenging there to grow food?!” My standard response has become: “Different challenges.” We knew what varieties of broccoli could endure the nearly frozen ground we planted them into the first week of May. We knew to take the plastic off our green house by the second week of September so it wasn’t ripped to shreds by the autumnal glacial winds. Growing in the North can be finicky, but with the right knowledge most of your basic vegetables grow just fine. Challenging, but not impossible. Now in a different climate, Mimi and I are being schooled in plant pests and diseases, something we didn’t have to face as much in Alaska, where the cold weather and geographic isolation keep those threats to a minimum. If we hoped for an easy an gradual introduction course, this summer was not the year to begin. Folks, we’ve seen just about everything at this point. Let me count the ways:
1.You may have noticed that your beets did not have greens on them last week. That’s because they were dead. Completely brown and dried, made that way by a plant disease called “leaf spot”. It’s also affected our swiss chard (which makes sense, seeing as it’s the same species as the beet), making it totally un-harvestable at this point.
2.You haven’t seen a lot of potatoes in your share to this point because more than half of our plantings were ravaged by potato leaf-hoppers. To me this insect looks like a miniature grass hopper crossed with a moth, and when we walk through the potatoes we stir up storms. They suck the stems and leaves, and when they’re really bad they can totally destroy the foliage of a potato plant. In case you haven’t guessed: they were really bad this year. Some of our more resilient varieties did survive the onslaught, and we’re trying to hold those potatoes for the fall season as to be able to offer the seasonal delight at that time of year.
3.You probably did a little double take at last week’s vegetable list when you came to the item “Delicata Squash”. Well, maybe you would have if I had been more categorical in my naming. Delicata is a winter squash. WINTER. We gave it to you on August 15. While our squash patch looked fantastic about 3 weeks ago, it is now almost non-existent, wiped out by a foliage targeting disease called powdery mildew. It’s super common in the Northeast, and farmers expect it. We planted summer squash 6 different times throughout the season to combat the disease so we could deliver you a consistent supply. Plantings 1-3 have already been knocked out and the squash is not coming from plantings 4 and 5 (6 is not yet in production). As for the summer squash, I think we’re actually really lucky that we had such a warm spring, as everything was actually fairly mature when we had to harvest all the goods and bring them inside out of the hot sun. This week you’re receiving a pie pumpkin from us. Pumpkins aren’t supposed to happen until the fall. On a normal year we would have harvested these maybe a month later. If you want to hold onto the goods for halloween or Thanksgiving, freezing is always a good option. I would roast it in the oven first, then puree, then freeze in ziplocs if you’re looking to make a pie. There is one shining light in our squash patch: bearing the most boring and strange name of maybe all of our plants, our butternut squash variety Metro PMR lives on. PMR, in utter relevance, stands for Powdery Mildew Resistance. We are thanking our luck and instincts for planting one variety that can withstand the plague.
4.Two weeks ago we had one of our biggest cucumber harvests. One week later we had our smallest. In that time, our biggest, healthiest planting went from kicking out 1 cucumber a foot every day to slowly wilting towards the ground. By today the row was a withered mess of desiccated vines. The cucs started with the same powdery mildew that hit the squash, but then also caught DOWNY mildew, which totally wiped them out. We still have another planting coming in, but I’ve heard this stuff spreads fast, so enjoy your cucumbers this week.
5.I could go on, but I will not.
So why is all this stuff happening? Well, it’s been a bad year for farmers all over the region amidst early drought conditions and coming off an extremely warm winter. Colder temperatures can act as a pest and disease filter, and the weather clearly did not reach the extremity required to help knock out some plant threats last winter. The season has been extremely hot and humid, and these conditions have taken an additional toll on the plants. While our tomatoes look like they should (in terms of their deteriorating health), other farmers have told us theirs look even worse, like they should in October. We’d place ours at about September 15 of a normal year. Of course, years are becoming less and less normal in general, and farming, especially with organic methods, will probably become more and more difficult as the weather continues to become less predictable. Or maybe the weather’s always been unpredictable and I’m just the latest complainant. Maybe we should ask the aging population of our nation’s corn growers, who are facing the worst drought they’ve seen in their lifetimes, and certainly a more appropriate perspective to evaluate the weather fluctuations of the last 10 years.
The good news is that, even though a lot of our favorite crops are dying back, we are prepared. Community Supported Agriculture programs are a partnership between a farm and its customers, which helps spread the risk of bad years like this over a larger group of people, who can all equally share the burden if something goes wrong. In my mind, many farms have begun to interpret this concept a bit too liberally, using upfront paying customers to dump less quality produce on, and a supposedly understanding constituency to be lazy about taking care of crops and doing their best to ensure positive outcomes. It is my attitude that a farmer should do all that he or she can to honor the value of a CSA share, no matter how bad the year. For us, this has meant adjusting crop and planting plans. As we began to see our cucumbers and squash die back, we knew our fall shares might be short some items, so we began to plant turnips, beet greens, braising mixes, arugula, pea shoots, broccoli raab, and other items that can help compensate for those lost. While theirs nothing we can do (organically) to keep some of our crops from dying, we still have time to plant more food into the field, and it’s our responsibility to do so. This year might be considered by many as one of the worst in recent history for growing vegetables anywhere in the country (well, last year was pretty bad, too), but that is no excuse to spread that burden to our members as long as there is something we can do about.
We hope you enjoy this week’s harvest!
Ben and Mimi
Growing Heart Farm CSA