We try to communicate what we do on the farm to grow your food. In some ways it is simple in that we plant, water, weed, and harvest it. The complicated part is the planning and then the execution of the plan with constant changes to the plan due to ever changing conditions. The last six weeks have been the most challenging that we have ever experienced. It has been too wet to work in the fields with tractors for much of the spring planting season.
Normally we use May 15 as the frost-free date for spring and September 15 for the first frost in the fall. Many of the crops we grow cannot tolerate frost and need to be grown in between these two dates. We normally plant half the farm in the May 15 to June 15 time period. Around here it is usually dry for most of that time. The constant rain has made it so we could not plant very much during this critical time period. I managed to plant a little if it was even close to dry enough to plant. This week we got the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and melons planted as well as winter squash. Both tractors ran all day for the last few days. We also hand-transplanted the Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower (we normally use our water-wheel transplanter for this job). We did not get the next planting of beets, carrots, or beans planted. There is only so much we can do in a day. Normally most of these crops would have been planted weeks ago and we would only have the winter squash left to plant and then successions of other crops (like carrots, beets, beans, and greens) to plant throughout the summer. It is supposed to start raining again tonight and the next few days so we will see what we can plant.
The effect of the rain has been to slow down the growth of many crops. The beets leaves turned red and they almost died from too much water. I planted the beets in March and they were doing great until the rain and cold started in mid-April. For comparison, last year we had beets by the 3rd week of CSA. The transplanted kale, cauliflower, collards, and chard are also weeks behind normal. The Fava beans don’t normally like our climate, but they are happy this spring I am hoping for an impressive harvest on Fava beans. The peas are also cool-weather crops that are doing very well and should be ready next week.
I always plant some “insurance crops” that are easy to produce, hold well in the field, and are crops people like. Zucchini, potatoes, chard, kale, beets, and carrots are some of my normal “insurance crops”. This spring many of these are struggling. There are some early potatoes, but our main planting rotted in a field with standing water. Fortunately I only planted half of my seed potatoes (and still have the rest unplanted), but we had over 1,000 pounds of seed potatoes rot. We had to plant the zucchini and cucumber seeds 3 times because they kept rotting in the wet ground. Now these plants are many weeks behind where they should be in early June. The kale is almost ready, but still growing slowly and not loving how saturated the soil is.
This season we have a crew of 17 and last year we had 23 people working in early June. This is about 300 less hours worked per week than last season. Our crew missed work one day per week for 4 of the last 6 weeks because it was too wet to work. I was worried about our crew having to quit to find more reliable employment. Fortunately, the crew we have is great and we are accomplishing a significant amount every week.
I am hoping it will not be a terrible farm season. We do actually have a good amount of food growing right now. We could use some luck and warm weather. We are working to give our CSA great quality food and to improve on the variety from week to week. We have to choose between giving you food that you have had enough of for a while, or not giving you anything. I know the turnips have become a bit much, but I had another farm buy Red Wagon turnips for their CSA because they did not have hardly anything ready. We want our CSA members to be happy and are doing our best but we cannot control weather. Wish us luck for better weather for the rest of the growing season!
Hang in there, Red Wagoneers! I’m not surprised to hear this has been your most difficult season to date. The weather has not been “normal” for several months or a few years it seems; last year had anomalies too, but perhaps easier for most growers to adapt to. Being a CSA member means going through the bad times too, although often we simply reap the benefits of an early investment. We are lucky to have farmers like you willing to take on the tremendous risks and do the hard work of growing food; I so appreciate the diversity of organic farms here in Boulder County. You contribute greatly to the healthy and delicious living we enjoy here. I’m afraid it’s not just global warming, but global “weirdness”, as I heard mentioned on the radio recently. I’ll keep my fingers for a long warm (but not too dry) summer and a late start to fall (but more gradually than last year’s sudden tree-damaging November freeze!)
Thank you for your kind words!
We’ve been loving our CSA. It’s the first year we’ve done it and have been incredibly happy with everything. Sorry the weather is giving you so many problems, but thanks for making the best of it!
Piebird said it so well: “We are lucky to have farmers like you willing to take on the tremendous risks and do the hard work of growing food.” We love being a part of Community Supported Agriculture, and count Amy, Wyatt, and all of the Red Wagon Organic staff as blessings. We feel tremendous gratitude and appreciation for your efforts – one and all.
Look at it another way – with the unusual weather, you’re just changing the usual lineup and getting us all to try a different balance of vegetables, which is why a lot of people enjoy CSAs anyway.
I don’t miss the kale at all and I am loving all the hakurei turnips – cut in half, boiled/steamed, then sauteed lightly in a generous amount of butter and finished with good sea salt (fleur de sel if you have it). Keep ’em coming! The peas are delicious, and I’m looking forward to having enough fava beans this year to try in a few different preparations. Different is not terrible. :)