|These little baby spinach plants are overwintering|
in the hoophouses! They have two protective
layers of clear plastic sheltering them from the wind
and capturing the heat from what little sun we
have, so they can get a head start for spring!
That was ten years ago, and when I think about how much has changed, I'm amazed at all of the ways we've grown since then. We started out on land we were renting from a family friend, with a capricious borrowed tractor that worked only part of the time, without a barn, electricity, or even running water at the farm. (Seriously. For the first several months of that season, we had to drive everything we harvested a half mile up the road and wash it in our friend's barn before the CSA drop-offs. Our farm labor consisted of Fred and our friend Malcolm, with me helping out at CSA drop-offs and doing all of the farm's communications.
Now as we enter 2021, we're on the same land, but we own it now. We have three tractors (two old Farmall Cubs and our beloved green tractor that does whatever we need it to do and works all the time, rain, shine, or snow.) We now have our own beautiful barn with a large, functional wash-pack area. (It's still not super fancy, but it sure beats the old arrangement!) We also have seven hoophouses, a heated greenhouse, a deer fence, a driveway we're not always getting stuck in whenever it rains, and a delivery vehicle that we can pack a LOT of veggies into!
Everything continues to grow. That tiny baby we had when we first started the farm is now 10, and she and her 8- and 5- year old siblings are no strangers to the farm. They're not really that useful yet for farm work, but they like running around picking wildflowers and playing with the barn cats. Sometimes I can get them to pull a few weeds.
And this year we also solved a perpetual pain point at the farm, that of getting enough good farm workers each season! Exactly ten years after we bought the house we still live in, we purchased another house, this time for farm employees and interns for the season. Our old friend Malcolm who helped us out so much that first season is now a realtor, so we worked with him to buy a cool old house that's just a block from the main downtown area in Alma. We had found that the fact that we couldn't provide housing was limiting our pool of potential workers to just local folks. While there have been years where we had a really stellar team of local people, more often than not, it has been really hard to find enough people in our area who want to do our type of work, can do it well, and want to stay all season. We knew that if we could offer housing, we would be able to hire people from anywhere who would come here specifically to learn how to farm. And we've actually already hired two people for the season, Katie and Carolyn, who seem like they're going to be a great fit! So, in a repeat of what I was doing a decade ago at this time, I've spent much of last week scraping the old, dingy wallpaper from the kitchen walls of the new house and repainting, making minor repairs, and generally getting things ready for our summer farm crew.
While most of my farm-related work is indoors now (getting the new house ready, filing all of our year-end business forms, and signing people up for the CSA), Fred is still doing some outdoor farm work. He has been repairing and modifying farm equipment and building new implements. He recently spent a few days reinforcing our old potato digger, which is an extremely useful old-school implement that was meant for a much smaller operation than ours, and wasn't designed to be used as extensively as we have over the last few years. We're also still harvesting a very small amount. When the weather permits, Fred harvests some of our overwintered carrots, which have been so delicious and sweet! We currently have four of our hoophouses (also called coldframes) planted with overwintered spinach, lettuce, and green garlic, which we expect to start harvesting the first week of March. The other three hoophouses will be planted in the next few weeks, and those seeds will eventually become the produce that we harvest in the late spring and for the first weeks of the CSA.
And even though it seems far away now, June will be here before we know it! If you're interested in signing up for the CSA next year, just fill out this form, and I'll get you all signed up! If you've never been part of the CSA before, you can check out all the details and learn how it works at our website. The price will be $600 for a full share and $325 for a half share at our regular drop-offs, and if you're interested in home or workplace delivery, just let me know, and I'll send you a quote! We'd love to have you in the CSA this year!!!
What's New for 2021?
Every year, Fred eagerly awaits the arrival of his seed catalogs. Each December, he loves nothing more than to sit by the fire poring over publications from half a dozen seed companies, developing the perfect roster of fruit and vegetable varieties for the coming year. This year, he actually moved his traditional coffee/fireplace/seed researching process up several weeks, because last year, many of the seed companies kept running out of stock, and we wanted to make sure we could get all of the varieties he wanted to try. So over the course of November and December, we put in several orders, and our seeds have already started arriving! We especially wanted to make sure we could get the million (yes, million!) seeds we wanted of our favorite carrot variety, so we knew we needed to get started early!
Aside from our ambitious carrot plans, we're also trying a few other new varieties this year! We've got a few new types of winter squash planned, including the Autumn Frost variety (which is kind of like a Butternut but with a ribbed texture and a dusky orange color, and a really sweet flavor), and Black Futsu (which is pumpkin shaped, and has a sweet, nutty flavor). We're also going to give some cauliflower a try! The variety is called Song TJS-65 (I've always wondered how they choose those names), and it is supposed to be a unique type of sprouting cauliflower with great flavor. We're also bringing back a few crops that we have grown in the past but taken a few years off from, such as pie pumpkins, parsley, and Patty Pan summer squash.
Another big change is that we will be doing our own onion starts this year! We've traditionally bought pre-started organic onion plants from a grower in Texas, but we experienced some quality issues the last two years, so we were considering doing it ourselves. This particular grower has some organic production and some conventional production, and this year he wrote to tell us that his organic field accidentally got sprayed with synthetic chemicals, so the onion plants wouldn't be able to be certified organic. Because our organic certifier requires us to use organic plant starts, we wouldn't be able to get onions from him this year. So we're going to do it ourselves! We're expanding our greenhouse production to accommodate upwards of 30,000 onion plants, and they should be ready to plant in April or May, which is when we usually plant our onions anyway.
This year, we're going to try to get even earlier crops of summer squash, red potatoes, and carrots from the hoophouses, so we can get a meaningful amount of those veggies into the first and second CSA shares. Hoophouse production gives the plants just enough of a jump on growth so that we can have them a few weeks earlier. That will allow us to bring an even wider variety of items to you guys for the first few weeks of the CSA!
This time of year, the upcoming season always feels like a big adventure. We make our plans, get as many ducks in a row as possible, and set the course for the season ahead. And of course, it doesn't always work out the way we planned. Last year at this time, the world had only the faintest hint of what was coming, and we couldn't have planned for what 2020 would bring us. But each year is a chance to start anew, to keep running with the things are are working great, and to make tweaks and try new solutions for the things that aren't. So here's to 2021! I, for one, am excited to see what type of adventure this year will be, and I am hopeful that when we all look back next January, we will see how much has changed for the better and how far we've come.