Well, after a promising start to last week, weather-wise, the wet, cold weather has come back with a vengeance. Looking ahead at the forecast things don’t look too great for the remainder of the season. We had our first sub 40 degree night over the weekend and it looks like our first frost will be hitting us later this week and the possibility of the dreaded 4 letter S-word. But we shall see. With temps dipping below 40 degrees and the threat of frost coming, many crops will perish with the cold temperatures. It’s been a good run but all things must come to an end. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Light frosts will actually start to sweeten many of the crops that are still in the ground. And we still have a lot to get out. My hope is that there will still be enough time before we are in consistent sub-freezing temperatures. We’ll do a big push this week to get out as much as we can. We’ll actually start with the peppers and tomatoes in the hoophouses since most of our remaining field crops can handle the weather. Even though the hoophouses add some extra warmth, the lack of sun and close to freezing temperatures will surely mean the end of those crops. If we get them out this week, we should be able to have them for the remainder of the CSA season.
The wet weather of October continues. We got close to 3 inches of rain last week and the fields are an absolute mess at the moment. There’s standing water in some parts and soupy mud in others. We haven’t gotten enough sun to really dry things out. A lot of the late season field work I was hoping for may not happen. I’m just hoping for enough of a dry spell that I can do one last field prep of where the garlic will be planted later this month. One of the benefits of being a mostly human-powered farm, is that we are still able to get out into the fields to harvest and some cleanup projects. It’s not ideal but we are able to do it. I feel for our neighbors who have livestock or dairy operations and are struggling to get corn harvested or hay cut. Aah, the joys of farming.
Even though the end of the season is in sight, the amount of work that needs to be done each week is still a pretty long list. I spent some time last week with the student interns discussing what the end of the season looks like and where our priorities lie. There are many projects that still need to get done before the ground freezes. And with how temperamental the weather can be, who knows when that will exactly happen. We’ll revisit our list weekly but some of the big projects that we have left are to sort our seed garlic, prep the ground where garlic will be planted, weed and mulch our newly planted strawberries, prep the hoophouse and greenhouse beds for winter plantings and harvest, harvest, harvest!
Last week we began to harvest beets and potatoes. The name of the game this time of the year is to try to get ahead as much as possible because we don’t want to have too many storage crops that are still in the ground when the weather really starts to turn. Another big project that we got done was to “top” all of our tomatoes growing in the hoophouses. Topping the plants means to cut off their growing point. This is an important task because we want to have as much fruit as possible ripen before the season is over. If we left the plants as is, they would still continue to put on foliar growth and fruit clusters. With the days starting to shorten and the temperatures starting to cool a bit, there just isn’t enough time to grow and ripen fruit. The topping signals to the plant that their time is almost up and they begin to put their remaining energy into ripening.
Farming can be a cruel profession and this past week was a perfect example of that. You spend months in the winter to plan for the upcoming season. You order seeds, maybe pick some new varieties, spend time on a marketing plan, figure out what you’re going to grow and how much of it and so on. The season always starts out with so much hope and enthusiasm. Sure, you can control for pests, weeds and disease to the best of your ability. But once those plants go in the ground, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature. We lucked out for the most part, but the rain last week was devastating for many farms in the area. Friends of mine in Schuyler County got 9 inches of rain early last week and a large part of their farm was either washed our or under water for part of the week. Pretty incredible. Now, I don’t want to go off on a Climate Change rant but the trend over the last few years has definitely been more extreme weather events, especially with precipitation. The annual average rainfall may be consistent to what it’s been over the last decade but there is no denying that we have experienced more extremes, weather in rainfall or drought. This is where you, the CSA member, plays a part. One of the main principles of CSA’s is that it is a shared risk between the farm and its shareholders. When there is crop loss due to disease, pests or weather, the farm doesn’t take the entire hit because of members like you. That loss is felt across the CSA. Just like in times of bounty (like our tomatoes), the entire CSA gets to benefit from that. This is also a perfect reason why crop diversity is so important, especially for the small-scale farm. Throughout the growing season, some crops do well and some don’t and many times it’s for reasons that are out of the control of the farmer. So, I just wanted to take the time now to thank you all for supporting the TC3 Farm in times of abundance and in times of failure.
I started to have flashbacks to last season with the weather we were having in the early part of last week. 3 plus inches of rain in 3 days was a lot to handle, especially with the heavy downpour we experienced on Wednesday. I was starting to stress that we weren’t going to be able to get back into the field to finish this season’s plantings. But that stress subsided when the rain stopped and the sun came out on Thursday and Friday to dry out the fields and get us back on our way. Things definitely slowed down with the amount of field work we were able to get done but we managed clear out the last of the early carrots that were planted and the rest of the garlic. So, all the garlic is now hanging in the upstairs of the barn curing away. Garlic won’t be in the CSA share again until the end of August, at the earliest. After it’s done drying, we will sort out the largest, most uniform bulbs to replant for next year.
Well, folks, we made it. The 4th season of the TC3 Farm CSA is complete. A big heartfelt thanks to all of you for supporting the farm this year! It really means a lot.
Just like last year, the weather had a huge impact on the growing season. I know I’ve mentioned this in earlier newsletters, but after experiencing an extreme drought and extreme wet weather in back to back years, I’d take the drought over the wet 10 out of 10 times. They both have their own issues but we can do more in a dry year. A wet year like this poses a whole lot of problems. First and foremost, it’s hard to get fields prepped when it’s always raining. And that throws planting schedules off or plantings get completely missed, especially with a lot of direct seeded crops, which happened plenty of times. Then there’s the weed pressure. All plants love water and the weeds are no different. Disease pressure also tends to be a little higher during a wet season. The plants rarely had time to dry out, which made them a little more susceptible to certain diseases. Pests are pests and they will always be an issue but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen more snails or slugs than I have this season.
Even in an extremely wet year, there were a lot of positives. This was our largest CSA membership to date. We’ve almost doubled in shares since our first season in 2014. Again, thanks to you all who have been with us since the beginning and to those who have joined over the years. I also think that our new share options worked out pretty good. It’s always a little nerve-racking to think if there is enough food each week but I think we did well in that department. Even with crop failures (I’ll get to that in a bit), there was a good amount of diversity each week. I think that there were only a few weeks out of the 22 where a new item wasn’t introduced. And let’s give a little shout out to carrots and spinach. Those are two crops that we have struggled with over the years. In previous years, there may have been 1 or 2 distributions of little dinky carrots and that definitely was not the case this season. This was also the first year that we had spinach in this shares. It definitely wasn’t as often as I would have liked (or what we had planned) but it was a start.