Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture

Notes from the Farm - November 2000
By Elizabeth Henderson

The fall colors seemed especially vivid this year as though the cold and wet of the growing season had made up to the trees for the dryness of last year. Unlike us farmers, the trees did not have to worry about getting crops planted in wet fields in time to ripen before the heavy frosts of fall. Our first frost came unusually early - a light nip September 7, then a sharp bite September 28-29, followed by cool, but relatively mild days until the bitter cold of our final harvest weekend.

There is no denying some of our hot weather crops were mediocre this year. There was not much we could do to help them. The average temperature in May was 41 degrees, and 64 degrees in both July and August. Tomatoes just arent happy when the mercury drops below 55. Melons stop growing and do not sweeten up. We did manage to produce a lot of decent tasting cherry tomatoes by planting more than double what we did last year. The hoop house, on the other hand, was an unconditional success. Almost all the red peppers and big eggplants in the shares came from the hoop house, as did the early bunches of basil. This would not have been a year to grow sweet potatoes, even in Georgia. Our sweet corn, while small, did taste good, and the last planting managed to ripen the day before the sharp frost which killed the plants.

Although the mix was a little different from other years, there was an adequate supply of food for the shares. We were short on winter squash and pumpkins to distribute. We planted them on time and actually harvested what should have been enough to last through November 19, but a lot of them rotted because they had not had enough heat and sunshine to ripen fully and cure well. Our compost pile is swollen with squash and pumpkin mash. We were also short on large onions. I hope some of you thought of doing what I did with the little onions - I cooked them in the gravy with our Thanksgiving turkey. Baked onions are delicious! By contrast, we had plenty of garlic and a bounty of potatoes. Instead of 2 pounds, we gave you 5 pounds a share in the final week. We met our goal of 6 weeks of high quality broccoli and cauliflower. The savoy cabbages were so massive we had a hard time squeezing them into boxes. There were lots of fall greens - kale, bok choi, senposai, collards, arugula, spinach, tat soi. The picture perfect lettuces for the final week came from the greenhouse. We will do that again!

Another kind of goal has been to make CSA members feel welcome to bring your children to the farm. You brought 132 children with you this season! We also gave tours to our cooperative intern training group, an environmental writing class, home schoolers, the Direct Marketing association, and members of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NY). We started an experiment with organic certification, supplementing the NOFA inspection with a special committee of CSA members who studied the NOFA program and inspected the farm together with veteran farmer Jack Porter. His visit made me realize the value of having a mentor.

Once bitten, twice shy, the saying goes. Well, we have been bitten twice. So we have tried to made careful preparations for whatever weather extreme we may suffer next spring. The earliest crops we plant are lettuce, oriental greens, radishes, peas, and onions. We have allocated our driest beds for the onions, and fall tilled and then mulched enough beds for the rest of the early crops so that, even if we cannot till the ground in the spring, we will be able to move the mulch aside and plant. We have enough trickle tape to irrigate these crops if it turns out to be dry. We have also done a good job of planting cover crops so that very few beds will be exposed to the winter weather without a protective covering on the soil. We have found that the rye/hairy vetch combination provides ample fertility for heavy eaters like broccoli. The beds for next years fall crops have a dense planting of rye/vetch which shines bright green amidst the fading browns and yellows of the winter.

Besides harvesting and cover cropping, the other big job this fall has been putting a new roof on the barn and building sliding doors for the bays where we store equipment. A skilled carpenter named Pete Herrmann, with Greg as his assistant, has been doing that work, under Doug Kraais supervision. I feel no resentment at being declared too small and weak to heft 22 foot lengths of metal sheeting onto the roof! I found plenty to do spading up new beds for the asparagus we will transplant next spring and for the new site for the hoop house. Since we plant directly in the ground under the plastic roof, we want to move the hoop house each year so that we can have rotations. At Dougs invitation, we also began work to move our main cropping area to the field next to the barn so we dont have to drive up and down the road so often. Doug has a lovely plan for creating our long-awaited irrigation pond combined with a culvert to allow a road over the stream between the two fields.

Ammie has been a wonderful addition to our farm team. This year, she asked Greg and me to treat her as a helping hand, not a member of the management. Nevertheless, she took charge of a lot of the washing and packing of the harvest, leaving me freer to work with CSA members on other jobs. Our interns, Tara and Melissa, were both hard workers and good company. We were surprised and hurt when Melissa left without warning at the end of August. We were grateful that Tara stayed till the end of the season and that Mark House, who is spearheading a project to start a new CSA in the Canandaigua area, stepped in to work one or two days a week so we were not shorthanded.

On August 21, Helen, 6 year old daughter of Greg and Ammie, began her official home schooling at the farm. The earlier part of the summer, Helen had continued with day care because it included regular swimming lessons. Helens presence required us to change our schedule somewhat. Ammie cut back to four and a half days a week at the farm, with an hour or two for lessons with Helen on those days. Greg sometimes took the teachers role, and I added occasional lessons in French and stretching sessions. Paula Vargas, an experienced Montessori teacher, gave us some pedagogical tips to help us do justice to teaching Helen. You could not find a more willing and enthusiastic learner! Those of you who have been to the farm with children will have noticed that Helen is both sociable and charming, an easy youngster to have around. Helen is also extremely creative about finding ways to help with the farm work, but with her love of fun, there is little chance that we will violate child labor laws. It is only the threat of the law and the length of her legs that prevent Helen from becoming our tractor driver.

Over the winter, Greg, Ammie and I will explore different ways to divide our responsibilities at the farm. We would like to get to the point where all of us are competent to do all of the jobs, and where the farm work does not threaten to engulf every other life interest. Something more like an 8 (or even 10!) hour day. To make this possible, we need some better equipment. We will be shopping for a tractor-drawn mower that we can offset to the side to mow between the beds. A mechanical transplanter is the next item on our want list. In the surveys you filled out, quite a few of you expressed the desire for organic fruit. Tree fruit and berry bushes require long term cultivation. At this point, we feel we have all we can do to provide amply for 240 shares. For the coming year at least, we would like to consolidate what we have been doing at Peacework, improve our management and efficiency, and see if we can reach a dynamic equilibrium instead of continuing growth. We will seek a partner farm to supply more fruit, as we have a partner in Blue Heron for the winter shares.

This issue includes our annual Veggie Questionnaire. Please fill them out and send them to the farm right away! Your answers help guide our seed purchases and planting plans for next year. Please feel free to suggest crops you would like us to grow. The issue also has the form for ordering plants from us. Once again, we will try to produce organic starts for your gardens.

We wish you all a happy and peaceful winter! We look forward to our winter rest to get us ready for another season of growing vegetables with and for the GVOCSA!


Copyright GVOCSA 2000. All rights reserved.