The main news from the farm the past few weeks has been the complete lack of rain. The entire month of September brought only a half inch of rain (including yesterday’s rain). The main takeaways of this are that Ben continues to spend large chunks of his day setting up irrigation and our cover crop plans for the farm have largely failed. I have mentioned before on the blog that we seeded 6 acres of land to oats and crimson clover (it is actually more like 10 acres). We have found over the years that good cover cropping management is key to successful and productive fields so having the seed not germinate is very disappointing. We did get a quarter inch of rain yesterday so we’ll see if any more seeds sprout but we aren’t holding our breath!
Yesterday’s rain was quite good for our sweet potato harvest. We have been digging all last week and the bone dry soil has been less than ideal. The potatoes have gotten scuffed up in the process and we are a little nervous the broken skin will affect their storage. With a little moisture we won’t have the same dry clumps of soil crashing against the potatoes while we dig. We had a bit of a scare this morning when our tractor, which undercuts the beds so we can lift the potatoes out, wouldn’t start! But it was just an electrical issue that Ben was able to fix this morning. So the digging can continue on!
This weekend we had a brand new weather scare for us: a frost warning in September! It came on Saturday after I got from market. Being short of time and staff there really wasn’t a ton we could do. Normally to prepare for an upcoming frost we would pick all the remaining tomatoes with color (even green ones for a round of fried green tomatoes), peppers and other frost sensitive crops. For this past warning, we covered 2 beds of watermelon and our green bean planting with row cover. When we finished it was dark and I panic picked a pint of sungolds for ourselves just in case it was really was the end.
In the morning there were most definitely patches of frost in the low lying grassy areas! The tomatoes did survive. And we’ll never know if the row cover was necessary or not, but I am glad we played it safe and have some of our best beans and watermelon in this week’s box!
Red Onions (grown by co-op partners, Shared Legacy Farms)
The weather is shifting and the crop harvest list is also shifting. For wholesale the summer squash is replaced with kale and for CSA the flavors of summer cling on just a bit as we replace them little by little with fall delicacies. The low this weekend is actually going to hit 40 degrees! 2 nights in a row! Which may put an end to our basil crop, of which we have one more planting. So if it isn’t in your boxes next week, it got fried (or should I say frozen)! We harvested our butternut and honeynut crop this past week. They will now cure in the barn for a week or two to develop their sweetness. We are more than half way through our 29 potato beds! But the sweet potato harvest is also on the to do list! While planting and weeding duties on the farm have calmed down, we are still quite busy and find ourselves in the midst of heavy lifting season.
Employee Spotlight: Kate
We were thrilled to have Kate join us for a second year this season. Kate is so attentive to her surroundings, has laser focus on the task at hand, is a super speedy squash box packer, and, like everyone on the farm, so very easy and fun to work with! She was born and raised in Englewood, spent time out west in grad school for ecological science, and recently returned to Dayton after realizing her true calling: massage therapy. Last year while she worked part time on the farm she was also working to get her Massage Therapy License. This year while working on the farm, she is building her very own Massage Therapy Practice! Do yourself a favor and check out Heartwood Massage Therapy . Kate is offering our CSA members an exclusive deal! You can get a one time $10 off services by typing in “Mile Creek CSA”in the notes box when booking your appointment!
Kate’s favorite farm tasks are ones that require a team effort–like digging all those potatoes beds– and when she is not farming or at Heartwood, Kate can be found river surfing, hiking the many MetroPark trails with her dog, or traveling for weekend excursions in her van.
This week brought heavy harvests, cool finds, but sadly no rain.
Audrey is our resident arrowhead finder. She has found so many in the 4 years she has worked here including this one found Friday.
While I have seen many katydids on the farm this was the first time I noticed how leaf like their wings are.
Surprise harvest! The newest planting of cantaloupe fell off my radar and it was dumb luck I happened to notice it needed to be picked on Saturday evening. Being the weekend, we called on Evan to help bring it in! The bin looks and smells amazing!
We need rain very badly so it was disappointing when yesterday’s rain missed us completely. We can keep our vegetable crops alive and growing but we planted 6 acres of cover crop that we need mother nature to take care of. I don’t want to complain but it’s been a very stressful dry few weeks!
Green Beans Carrots Tomatoes Swiss chard Sungold cherry tomatoes (last for the CSA season) Jalapeño peppers Sweet peppers (mix of Italian frying and red bell) Cantaloupe Zucchini Basil Sweet Onions Cucumber Sweet corn (last of the season!)
When you see the farm everyday and only see it as an endless to-do list, it is easy to forgot how pretty it actually is. Last week we had a couple visitors to the farm from Gem City Market and they remarked at how beautiful the farm was while we walked around. And last week we were also treated to some very gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Additionally, there have been some neat animal encounters recently. So despite the hustle we are stopping to enjoy the view!
A few weeks ago we were picking tomatoes and a swarm of bees flew overhead. Only one of us actually saw the bees but a few of us heard them- what sounded like a semi truck barreling down the road. Later that afternoon while picking melons along the tree line I heard what I decided must be the bees. We bushwhacked our way through the honeysuckle infested tree line and found the swarm. Had they decided to huddle on our side of the trees, I would have invited our market gardening friend, Stephen Cook, who has hives and is a master swarm collector (see for yourself here) over to get the swarm. Not knowing how bees work, I thought they would be around the next day and the next with a glorious hive for me to keep tabs on all fall. When I brought the kids out to show them they were gone. It’s a pretty fascinating phenomenon and you can read about bee behavior here.
As always the farm is bustling with activity. We are in the thick of harvesting season– both for our weekly deliveries but also for long term storage. We have 29 beds of potatoes to dig which we are working on one bed at a time. We’d like to get them out by mid-September so we can then move on to harvesting our sweet potatoes, which take up another 20 beds! We are still planting once a week for our fall boxes. The brassica field (which includes crops like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts) looks terrific and is almost all planted out. Last week we side dressed with organic fertilizer and nutrients and have been keeping up with cultivating to keep the weeds down. It is also time to get ourselves set up nicely for next year. This means chisel plowing, discing and planting cover crop in fields that we are finished with so that they can rest and recover over the winter. Several fields have been disced and chisel plowed. Looks like we may get some rain at the end of the week so over the next couple days, Ben will be making raised beds, seeding cover crop, and raking the seed to cover it in a number of fields. Hopefully we do get rain (after all the fields have been seeded!) and end up with a nice stand of cover crop. Overall the hard work of August seems to be effective!
I’m going to tell you about the real dirt on carrots. Mainly that they require A LOT to grow. So much so we only attempt to grow them twice, in spring and fall, and every attempt comes with varying degrees of success. They are a crop we can’t transplant but rather sow directly in the ground. And they are finicky germinators. Germination rates decline if temperatures are above 85, if the soil gets compacted like it does after a heavy rain, or if soil to seed contact is poor as it would be in chunky soil. So good soil prep is key and we must keep our eye on the forecast.
Carrots also grow very slowly and can be taken over by weeds quickly so we must have a a weed management plan in place. Ideally we would make the carrot beds a few weeks before seeding them. This is so we can stale bed, which is to shallowly run the tiller over the beds which kills any weeds that may have germinated. The goal is to do multiple rounds of this stale bedding and have really clean beds prior to seeding. Once we seed the carrots, about 4 or 5 days after we like to flame weed the beds. The carrots are not up yet, but a new round of weeds has germinated and we can kill those weeds with heat from a propane torch. Even after all this, we will still have to hand weed or at the very least go through the beds with a hoe.
To efficiently harvest the carrots, we under cut the beds with a tool on the back of the tractor that digs under the bed and lifts the soil and carrots up making for an easy harvest. Before we had the under cutter we would fork the beds and pull the carrots out. Our soil is so heavy when we used the garden forks, we actually had to water the beds first for the carrots to come out without breaking. When we did this method, the carrots weren’t the only causalities; we have broken several forks over the years!
The carrots in last and this week’s box are from our spring planting. The spring planting did pretty well though the carrots were hard to find amongst the weeds. We consider it a success if CSA gets 2 weeks of spring carrots. For us, it’s the fall carrots that really shine. This year the planting looks really good and we have a nice stand of carrots taking up five 400 ft beds. We got a few stale beds in but didn’t have a chance to flame weed. Today we made sure we’d have time for everyone to help hand weed the beds and we got it done in no time. We’ll start harvesting the fall carrots mid October for the final CSA boxes and if all goes well, we’ll even have a few hundred pounds left in the spring for the first couple boxes of the 2021 season (The first two CSA shares this year had Fall ’19 carrots).
In conclusion, enjoy your carrots as they truly are a labor of love! Now you know why they are only in the CSA boxes a couple times in the beginning, perhaps a few times mid season, and in the final month of the program! We are very glad to have a better handle on growing this customer favorite and plan to continue fine tuning our carrot production in seasons to come!
Last week we said farewell to one of our summer crew members. Kelli teaches 4th grade at the kids Elementary school here in New Lebanon and was looking for a summer job. She had experience working on market gardens in northern Ohio so she knew what she was getting into. She really enjoyed working with everyone on the crew, our Spotify radio stations played over our new Bluetooth speaker in the packing shed, learning how to lift heavy things with her legs not her back, and eating the fruits of her labor. We really enjoyed her laugh, stories, enthusiasm, positivity, and desire to be helpful at all times!
One of Kelli’s jobs on squash harvest days was riding on the harvest wagon and receiving the squash as they traveled down the conveyor belt. She had to bin them up and then lift the full bins to the back of the wagon, grab an empty bin and repeat the process. On particularly heavy harvest days she’d fill and move 30 bins! We definitely hope Kelli joins us again for another summer! And while we have enjoyed all the teachers at Dixie elementary, I sure do hope Isla gets Kelli when she is in 4th grade!
I plan to highlight all of our employees on the blog. The produce you enjoy was touched by everyone on the crew at some point–whether it be the seeding, the planting, the weeding, the harvesting or the washing. We are grateful to our employees- new and returning alike!
The start of August. A time of year when normally the farm is all consuming but summer break is winding down and it’s time to start thinking about school. In a typical year we actually do very little thinking about the start of school. Ben’s mom, Vicci, gets school supplies, new shoes, backpacks and lunch boxes and the kids just magically appear ready to go. We are such unreliable partners in this effort, that Vicci just by-passes us all together and has learned to go to the school website and download class supply lists herself.
This year, though, we are forced to think about school in an unexpected way. Like so many families, we are reviewing school opening plans and deciding if our kids will go to in-class school or if we will opt to do on-line learning. With the kids circulating through the community more, we have to consider the risks it would pose to the farm and our employees, who work so hard to bring you this good food. It has not been easy to think about -neither choice sounds particularly good- and I am sure many of you can relate!
I know that a lot of our CSA members are teachers, health care workers, parents–where ever you fall we are all navigating the coronavirus pandemic. I hope everyone is doing well! We are so appreciative of your support and confidence in us to provide good safe food-especially during this time. Hang in there and hopefully you are eating some really good home cooked meals while you are stuck at home!
We hope you are enjoying the sweet corn as much as we are! Sweet corn comes ready all at once so a trick to extend the harvest window is to plant 2 varieties that have different maturity dates at the same time. Last year we found “American Dream” and it became a quick favorite. The problem was that the other variety we planted was only ahead of it by 4 days so the harvest window was too narrow. One of our co-op partner farmers suggested the variety “Catalyst” which matures 11 days earlier than Ameircan Dream.
We do 4 seedings of each variety every 2 weeks for an 8 week non stop sweet corn season. This is the first year the varieties work in perfect sync to the plan and the first year we were able to plant all 4 plantings. So hopefully that translates to more corn for you all!
I took a picture of 3 of our sweet corn plantings on the same night to show the succession planting plan at work.
Yesterday was the last chance to cultivate the final round of corn with the tractor. There is a little bit of clearance under the tractor, so once crops get too tall the tractor isn’t able to drive over them without damaging them. We nearly missed our window and even though it was dark, Ben got the job done thanks to tractor lights!
We continue to fight the birds eating the tops of the corn. Last year our theory was that the birds were actually after the worms, so as long as we had worm free corn they wouldn’t be a bother. This year, though, our corn is relatively worm free but the birds are here! The new theory is that there are no mulberries for the birds this year (remember that 27 degree low on May 9th?) so they’ve settled on a corn diet. We just saw the other day that a farm we follow on Instagram lost 6000 ears to birds! Yikes. With a combo of a noise cannon, scare ribbon and balloons, and a portable radio playing loud music all day, we hope we can keep the birds at bay for our final plantings!