Tomatoes Bell peppers Sweet Italian peppers Escarole Kale Red onions Potatoes Celery Cucumber- last of the season! Cantaloupe- last of the season! Beets
It’s technically still summer, but this week the farm was full of signs of fall. We’ve been busy mowing finished crops and discing and chisel plowing fields as we get ready to put them to rest for the winter. We noticed our first deer damage- they always leave our crops alone until the fall. Last year they munched on our beet greens which was fine with us, as we were just using the roots. This year is a bit more dramatic- they seem to love escarole and it looks like they can take the whole plant in one bite! The harvest has transitioned from afternoons spent just harvesting tomatoes, to having more to time to harvest a potato bed or 2 whenever we can. Brassica season has started back up with kale and we’ll be picking more and more crops from this large vegetable family to fill our shares. I truly love fall: the weather is still nice, the farm pace slows to a more manageable clip, and we still have bountiful harvests!
I was noticing this box contains several items from the cucurbit plant family: cantaloupe, spaghetti squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and watermelon. They showcase the variety of fruits that come from this big leaved trailing habit plant family. Fun fact: loofah sponges are also cucurbits!
I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I just recently learned about the existence of the squash bee. We are hosting a couple bee hives on the property this year, but it turns out most of the pollination happening on our crops is probably being done by bees other than honeybees. Honeybees are not native, but there are about 4,000 native species of bees in the United States that are much more efficient pollinators. Take our curcurbits, for example. It is believed that 70% of commercial curcurbit plants are pollinated by the squash bee. It lives in the ground, by itself, often next to squash plants. They come out just as the squash blossoms open in the early morning and are active for just a couple hours after sunrise.
Our zucchini harvest is pretty much wrapped up for the year, but I am excited to pay better attention next year to all the bees present while we pick. I wonder if I’ll be able to spot and identify the different bees!
Among vegetable farmers August is known as “Slogust”. We have literally been working nonstop. Just yesterday alone, with the help of two former employees, we harvested 300 lbs of summer squash and 3 macro-bins of butternut squash, tied tomatoes, handweeded 4 beds carrots, cultivated the brassica field, seeded spinach and cilantro, and cultivated beet and salad plantings! Phew! We are looking forward to September and welcoming back a tiny bit of personal time. Maybe?
One major task we won’t have to do after this week is our summer squash harvest which we have been doing 3, sometimes 4, days a week since mid June. The sweet corn harvest ends this week as well. We really love sweet corn and think it adds value to our weekly boxes, so we try to have it 8 weeks in a row. Of course these harvests are just replaced by different fall crops like potatoes and sweet potatoes, but at least it’s a change of scene! Perhaps the more noticeable change will take place once seeding and planting is over, which is about a week away. There will be less to water and less to weed as well.
While we have been putting in 7 days a week for Slogust, we are rounding the corner to saner days! And nicer weather too!
This week’s news is brought to you by our other child, Isla. She talks about the coolest thing that happened this week, but I think it’s the coolest thing that has EVER happened on the farm.
The coolest thing this week was when I saw a bald eagle perched in a tree. (And to make things better it was right here at the farm!) I was bagging salad with my mom and my grandma when dad called mom on the phone. He asked if there was any other bird that was big and black with a white head and a white tail other than a bald eagle. Then mom went crazy and ran out there. We watched it until it flew away. Then I think mom wanted to find the bald eagle? Anyway I went back to bag salad while mom attempted to find the bald eagle. She bushwhacked through the tree line to the neighbors property. Mom says when she came out she was covered in burrs (Like our fuzzy kittens, I’m not sure what they do outside but they are always COVERED in burrs!).
Earlier this week I took these pictures because I was bored. They are of mom and dad weeding.
Isla would prefer if we prioritized taking her on bike rides over weeding. We, on the other hand, are pretty excited we got our field of fall brassicas including cauliflower, kale, cabbage and broccoli weeded! And, from the sound of it, seems like school has started back up right in time for Isla!
We’ve been enjoying the wildlife on the farm the past few weeks. There are so many monarch butterflies this year! A few weeks ago we were weeding the sweet potatoes and someone nearly pulled out a milkweed out before he was stopped by another employee. It was explained that the weed was milkweed, monarch caterpillars sole food source, so it could stay. Yesterday I checked the plant for caterpillars and found 2!
I tried to get a picture of the butterflies but they are very active and just seem to flutter all around the farm and never stop! While picking this week’s tomatoes, I did have several other wildlife encounters that I could take pictures of. (Unfortunately not the hummingbird who visited the patch twice while we were picking)
With sweet corn, melons and tomatoes all producing right now we are definitely at the height of our summer season. We are finally enjoying the fruits of all of the labor that we have been putting in to grow these favorite crops. At the same time we can’t help looking we forward to fall. Perhaps it is longing for cooler weather and shorter days. Or perhaps it is prepping the kids to go back to school. Whatever the reason we are already looking forward to all of the different flavors and vegetables that will be at their peak in the coming months. Especially important to our fall lineup are carrots.
For us the hardest part of growing carrots is the work that we have to put in right around when we are planting the crop. This work begins a couple weeks before we seed the carrots and we continue to baby them until they are nicely established a couple weeks after they poke their initial leaves through the soil surface.
The first step towards fall carrots is finding the ideal place to plant them. Every year we have a plan, but as they say about best laid plans…So, most years we end up juggling around the seeding plan so that we can get the carrots in nicely prepped soil that will be just the right texture to quickly germinate the crop. This year that preparation began back on July 8 when we hilled up soil to form that raised beds where the carrots are seeded.
After this initial hilling we fertilize and till the beds a couple times to prep for seeding and kill the initial weeds that germinate in our freshly worked soil. Ideally we get some rain (but not too much!) during this process in order to germinate weed seeds that we can easily kill with the tiller before we have planted the carrots. Finally once it is time to seed the carrots we shape the beds with a heavy implement that presses the soil into a raised bed with a flat top. Then, we seed! We seeded a little later this year, August 1, than we would like, but the cooler weather last week was ideal for carrot germination so we decided this would have to work.
Once the field has been seeded we need to get water on it, especially if there isn’t any rain in the forecast. We use a sprinkler that produces really fine droplets of water to do this in order to prevent the top layer of soil from forming a crust that would hinder the small carrot seedlings from poking through the surface. At the same time as we need to keep the soil wet, we don’t want to put on too much water that we rot any of the seed. This year we had to water the carrots for a couple hours every day or two.
It generally takes carrots 5-7 days to germinate with summer temperatures and consistent water. So 4-5 days after seeding we start digging up carrots to see how their germination is progressing. We do this because if the carrots haven’t poked through the surface of the soil we can burn off any small weeds that have germinated before the carrots. This year we burned off all the little weeds at the end of the fifth day after we seeded and we started to see the first carrots poking through the surface the next day. We are happy to report that now eight days after seeding we have a nice patch of carrots that we get to spend the next couple of weeks weeding! It will all be worth it in October when we hopefully start digging up and enjoying these carrots.
Welcome to summer bounty! While CSA boxes overflow in August, we try to figure out how to cram the equally overflowing work all in. The past 2 weeks we have dug 4 beds of potatoes. We have 25 beds left so Ben did some calculations and said to me, “if we stay with the 2 beds per week rate we’ll be done in 3 months.” That made me both laugh and cry a little. The plants are all pretty much dead but the potatoes can hang out in the soil until we are ready to dig them up. And we just have to get them out before a heavy October frost, so we actually do have 3 months to do the job. I just think we might be a little tired come month 3! Last week’s potato harvest was actually quite nice. The beds were starting to dry out which makes for chunky, dry uncomfortable digging around in the dirt. But on Thursday it rained a perfect amount- 1/2 an inch- which was enough to make the soil soft on our knees but not too wet so we couldn’t run the digger through. It’s good to remember the times the rain does work in our favor. We still have to irrigate 24/7 but we could take a break Thursday night after the rain and it took off some of the pressure. We had also just planted a large round of fall brassicas and the rain helped seal in the irrigation we had done right after planting. And again, it wasn’t too much rain to interfere with our plans for the next day’s work.
Sensing that his parents are a little bit overworked right now, Evan, our 12 year old son, wanted to help by writing this week’s blog. So here is farm news from a farm kid’s perspective:
Mosquitos make me sad. 🙁 There were a lot of ripe cantaloupes so Isla and I helped pick cantaloupes at night. We worked quickly because we were losing light… and the mosquitos were hungry. It was very itchy. (The job also had become larger, mom was expecting there to be four crates of 13 but we ended with 17.) After the job was done, we were rewarded with a Klondike Heath Bar. We can be happy it was at night, or we would be burning in our long sleeves.
Speaking of burning, it has been very hot the few past days. I’ve still had fun practicing my pitching though. Rain should come Thursday, which will be nice. Except for working hard to prepare for the rain.
Today I helped lay out onions to dry. You get a large tray thing and lay out the onions on it. Mom and I did that around 10 times. Sadly there were some mosquitos, but not as many.
I’ve actually only been home for two days. Before that I was at my grandma’s house to see cousins from Waco (5 cousins), Winston-Salem (2), St. Johnsbury, 2, (the only one in the world!!), and Malawi, 2, (formerly Hawaii). Age ranges from 21-6. I had a lot of fun going swimming, tubing, hiking, and jumping on the trampoline.
When I got back from Grandma’s I was excited to see the new sweet corn crop. I hope it is not as worm-infested as the last one. Now that I’m back I play the game “Steal food without the workers noticing.” I will also pitch right-handed baseball and left-handed wiffle ball. School starts on August 16, so summer is coming to an end.
This weekend Ben and I watched the movieMinari. I have been wanting to watch it for awhile but a recent conversation with my sisters piqued my interest. They advised me not to watch it: “so depressing”, “nothing goes right for that family”, and “too close to home”, they warned. Needless to say, I ignored them and watched it anyway!
Turns out that we thought it was a really great movie that depicts farming and farm life so well it was uncanny. Perhaps one of the main reasons that the movie felt so realistic in its depiction of farm life is because it is semi autobiographical. It felt so spot on given our experience starting and growing Mile Creek Farm.
Knowing my sister’s reviews once we finished the movie Ben turned to me and said “That wasn’t depressing. That was a Monday!” In all seriousness, though, it is a sad movie and bad things happen to the family in their first year of vegetable farming. BUT, for me and Ben, all the problems felt so relatable, strangely manageable, and nothing worth quitting over. And actually to us the movie was so so hopeful. I could go on and on about the movie, but I don’t want to spoil anything.
If you haven’t seen it I strongly recommend you do! In addition to being about farming, which I assume would be of interest to all you readers of this blog, it also covers other interesting topics: relationship dynamics between husband and wife and grandmother and grandchild, religion, the American Dream as told through the lens of an immigrant family trying to make it in rural Arkansas.
The next morning after watching the movie and assuring my sisters it was actually a hopeful movie, Ben and I went out to pick sweet corn, aptly named “American Dream”. We talked about the movie pretty much the entire time.
Fast forward to Monday, and we are picking this week’s carrots. We had starting picking the bed last week and were so excited for these carrots! We don’t always have successful summer carrots and these were looking the best yet! They were a bright spot in a difficult, wet summer. We picked bunches for CSA last week and another 75 bunches for market on Friday with no problems. Today, we started pulling them and quickly realized they had all pretty much started rotting because of last week’s 5 inches of rain.
We sorted out good ones, and decided that even though this particular harvest was taking way too long, we’d see it through. We managed to get 90 bunches, enough for Tuesday’s CSA. We estimate we had another 300 bunches of carrots in the bed that will never come to fruition. I looked at Ben and said “just another Monday”. Then, doing what farmers are prone to do, I looked to the future with hope and said “maybe the other carrots will pull through”, referring to two more 450 foot carrot beds full of carrots that are 2 weeks younger than the lost bed. If they do, you’ll be the first to know! (Well, maybe my sisters will be)
Coming Up Next Week (our best guess….) Cantaloupe, sweet corn, globe eggplant, shishito peppers, sungold tomatoes, dragon tongue beans, garlic, salt and pepper cucumbers
Fairytale eggplant Golden and green zucchini Sweet onions Basil Cucumbers Kale Salad mix Golden beets Carrots
Meet the Crew!
This year we welcome quite a few new employees to Mile Creek. We also have returning members we rely on. The planting, harvest, packing, delivery, weeding doesn’t happen without them! Some work 5 days, some help a couple days. Some even come in when we are desperate to get a task done over the weekend. All together we make it happen!
We are grateful for their hard work and interest in growing yummy food! (not pictured: Ian, who delivers our CSA boxes and also our co-op wholesale orders)