Dear CSA Members,
We are 2/3 of the way through the Red Wagon CSA season. Thank you so much for being part of our CSA! It has been a good growing season and it is finally tomato time. We try to get everything ready to plant right before the last spring frost date. We then plant as much as we can as quickly as we can so that we can get crops as early as possible. This way we have more variety in the CSA earlier and the crops can fully mature before the fall frost. Every year we have to make a choice on which crop to plant first after what should be the last spring frost. This spring on May 15 the weather forecast was for no more frost and I decided to start with planting tomatoes. Shortly after the 3,000 tomato plants were planted the forecast changed to probable snow and cold. We row covered our plants but it snowed on them. Many tomato plants died and then after the storm we transplanted some leftover plants out to replace the dead plants. The snow set the tomatoes back quite a bit and they are a little later this season than last season. I am amazed that any plants survived the cold and coat of snow. It could have been the snow or just a cooler summer but we only have half as many tomatoes per plant as we had last season. Don’t worry we still have almost too many.
The planning of when to plant what is challenging and then accomplishing getting everything planted is another challenge with weather not cooperating and other issues such as broken equipment. We normally try to plant a little bit every week so that we can get each planting weeded before the weeds get too large and become more expensive and difficult to control. In the spring after the last frost we have a tremendous amount to plant in a short time. We have to wait until after the last frost to plant all the summer crops that cannot take a freeze. This includes beans, melons, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, winter squash, pumpkins, eggplant and basil. This is about 10 acres needing to be planted in 10 days.
The fall crops are looking good. We have a great winter squash crop and should give you one squash each week for the last 6 weeks of CSA. We usually start with a spaghetti squash which I usually eat the first one of the season like spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce made from barely heated fresh tomatoes. The winter squash are a storage food. I stored a spaghetti squash for a year and 5 days once before eating it just to see how long it would store. Don’t worry if you are not eating each squash each week–they will reliably store well into the new year so put them in a cool dark-ish place and eat them after CSA is over. They can also be baked and the pulp frozen for later use.
The fall planting of greens like arugula will be back soon. We have a good crop of Brussels Sprouts this year. The parsnips are looking incredible with thigh high greens and roots already over a foot long. Parsnips can be difficult to germinate and need to be kept damp for about 2 weeks in April to get them to emerge. This year the germination was good. We did not plant a fall cauliflower crop at the right time. I planted a little earlier to make sure that they would be ready before CSA ended and they are ripening now about a month before I wanted. Two weeks difference in planting can change harvest dates by over a month sometimes. We keep getting better at dates and varieties but are constantly learning to be better.
We have a great crew this season and they have really worked to grow you some incredible food. The crew has consisted of 12 people who have worked to grow 23 acres of food. This is a small number of people to care for and harvest that much produce.
It might be apparent to some of you how large some of our crops grow and how good they taste. I have been working on using cover crop for fertility for the last few years and last fall planted over 20 acres to cover crop. The cover crop is a crop that is grown to improve soil quality but that is not harvested. The cover crops reduce erosion and fix nitrogen or capture existing nitrogen and prevent it from leaching. They also increase soil organic matter. At different times of year we grow different cover crops but some of what we grow is: winter peas, rye, vetch, oats, clovers and sorghum-sudan grass. Buying seed, planting acres and acres and then watering those acres is a lot of work. In the spring, the cover crops need to be managed so they don’t go to seed and need to be mowed and or plowed in. Getting used to the additional work and the timing of it has been really difficult but is now becoming part of what we do. The reduction in weeds and the increase in fertility make the work worthwhile. As we continue to cover crop we expect to see greater and greater benefits. The cover crop increases fertility and allows the crops to reach their full potential. Check out some of the peppers that have grown to their full potential (because they were planted in a field that was cover cropped). They are enormous.
I am working on some reduced tillage which is not easy in organic production with perennial weeds. I am also working on increasing pollinator habitat. Did you know Boulder has 350 native pollinators? I am planting some flower seeds in the cover crop. I planted clover and Birds Foot Trefoil into some of the farm roads where it grows and flowers without us having to do anything. We leave our arugula from the fall in the ground over winter and it is one of the first things to bloom in the spring. There are millions of flowers in a bed of arugula. Managing flowers so they don’t spread and become weeds in our crops is challenging and having something in bloom at all times is something I have not worked out yet. We do see wasps eating caterpillars and we know the pollinators help control pests but we don’t quite know what flowers are attracting the right beneficial insects and if the system is working and how to improve. These are all projects that we work on behind the scenes and you don’t necessarily see when you come to pick up your veggies each week. Please make sure to attend our farm tour next week if you want to learn more about cover crop, pollinators, reducing tillage, and lots more.
Thanks for being part of our CSA. I hope to see you at our Fall tour and our end of season pot luck.