Late Summer Crop Update

The crops at Old Plank Farm are rolling in with some ease right now. Of course, they don’t actually roll in, they are hand-picked by Angelica and myself day after day and week after week, along with the help of our lovely Monday morning crew! Here’s a brief overview of what’s going on in the field. As we start to hear geese flying by overhead, we also start to see a change in the fields under foot.

Summer crops like tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are ripening ripening ripening. We should have several more weeks of each of these. Eggplant is a bright spot right now, but I know it’s not a favorite so we’re trying not to force it on everyone. Still, give it a try in the next couple of weeks…grill it with a little oil, salt pepper and steak seasoning and you’ll be wishing summer could last forever!

Melons have good flavor, but there haven’t been enough yet to go around. We’re trying to get one to everyone, and looking at what’s still ripening in the field, that should be possible in the next week or two. There’s another late planting of melons that may yield something before frost as well. Yellow doll watermelon is just beginning to ripen; we have less than last year, as our first planting didn’t take too well in the cold June weather we had. But as of now we anticipate getting one to each member in September!

Potatoes are the brightest spot on the farm this year, and well on their way to earning the “vegetable of the year” award here. We’ve dug both varieties, a gold one and a red one, and both have been delicious and bountiful. We’re so thankful to have a little root-digging machine that our tractor pulls, because we’ve already dug 1800 lbs, and we are only about 30% done. That’d be a lot of shoveling for Angelica and I to do. We expect potatoes regularly for the remainder of the season. Hooray!

Basil and summer squash both mostly flopped this season. Basil is getting eaten by a bug I haven’t seen too much before. It suffered sitting in soggy spots in the field (there’s a poem in there somewhere…), and now it’s paying the price getting eaten by bugs. Still, we’ll put some in the choice boxes next week, so if you want to pick around the bad leaves and make some pesto, you should have the chance at least once this season.

Winter squash looks like it may be a close second for the “vegetable of the year” award, but without starting the harvest, we can’t say for sure. The deer have been devouring the spaghetti squash variety (it’s their favorite, they must be gluten-free deer), but we anticipated this to happen and planted an extra row for them. So far, it looks like we’ll have some for you as well as our friendly neighborhood deer (I have many more unfriendly choice words for those who damage my crops but I shouldn’t post such things here). Meanwhile, the acorn squash and the delicata squash are large and fruitful and untouched by deer. Both varieties enjoyed the regular rains and the hot July.

What else? So many crops, so little time to talk about them. A couple things to look forward to towards the end of the season include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes. I hope overall you as members have enjoyed the first half of our delivery season. We’ll do our best to make the fall harvest season as bountiful as the summer’s been.

High Tide

Is there anything more fascinating than the movement of water on a farm?

Yes, there is. Lots of things I’m sure. Nonetheless, watching water move is interesting enough to capture my attention during our growing season.

There’s very obvious places to watch water move. Like watching the changing water levels in ponds or even puddles. Or watching the slick spots while slip sliding through the path in the woods and knowing exactly how to drive on the path to avoid getting stuck in the muck on the way to the veg field. Or in a dry year I like to watch where the water is missing, as I kick up dust everywhere I walk, feeling a little like Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown.

But what interests me the most is watching the water move day to day within the plants and the soil. It’s the subtle movement of water, the daily tides around the farm, that I’ve been noticing more this season. For instance, on hot sunny dry days the fields look bone dry in the afternoon. But the next morning, early, I’ve noticed that moisture has moved up from deeper in the earth and is back near the surface again. Not the dew on the surface, but the moisture just within. This high tide on an otherwise dry day is a perfect time to get tractor work done, when it’s not too dry and not too wet. Even far away from the ocean, water pushes and pulls in the earth and in everything that grows from it.

And on a year like this, water gives us a few big surprises out in the field, too. Like this area of the tomato field that I came upon yesterday morning.

High Tide at the end of our tomato field.

High Tide at the end of our tomato field.

Ok, that is high tide in the field, I thought when I saw it. Maybe we’ll be swapping out tractors for kayaks if we get any more rain this week. The Tuesday morning storm dumped more water than parts of our fields could process, and we had areas of standing water like this one in our tomatoes, our fourth sweet corn planting, and our third bean planting. Most other areas handled the rain well enough, shedding it into the low spots on the edges of each bed and into the clover cover crop on either side of the veggie beds. Hooray for cover crops helping mitigate moisture!

The good news is the standing water is just in a small percentage of our crops. And already it is receding deep into the earth, and our plant roots are following it.

The Summer Crops Forecast

With the cold weather (hopefully!) behind us, the summer fruiting crops are starting to grow finally. Cucumbers and peppers in the greenhouses look nice and those will likely be the first of the summer fruits in our veggie boxes in a few weeks. Initially they may only be in the choice boxes in small quantities, because there is usually just a small percentage ready at the start of a harvest. Other outdoor grown fruiting crops (that’s most of ‘em) are not near harvesting yet (such as tomatoes, melons, eggplant). Until they are, we are looking to our greens and our roots to put into the boxes each week. Upcoming greens include kale and cabbage and more lettuce, and upcoming roots include more scallions along with onions, carrots, garlic and leeks. We will probably have some decent broccoli in a couple of weeks, and the snap pea plants are loaded and likely to offer us enough to go around to everyone a couple of times if not more. I’m hoping for new potatoes towards the end of July, or as soon as they are an edible size! We have a lot of nice looking potato plants in the field, and several nice sweet corn plantings too. But they will just barely be “knee high by the fourth of July.”

We are in one of our busiest times of the season right now. Harvesting is taking some time now, and planting season is still in full swing (lots of fall crops like cauliflower, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, more carrots, etc still need to get in the ground), AND the weeds are growing growing growing. I spend a lot of time cultivating when I am not planting or harvesting or caring for the greenhouse plants or doing the office work or helping with delivery or getting things ready for pizza nights to start! The warm weather and long days make it easy to get things done, and we are making the most of them here at the farm. There still isn’t a lot to show for the last 18 weeks of work we’ve put into this season so far, but the harvests will start to include more variety soon enough. It’s the last 18 weeks of work that bring out the best in a veggie farm’s season!

More on Spring

I keep getting comments about the hockey sticks still in my car. My reply is that you never know when you may find a patch of ice to play on, this is Wisconsin after all. That’s never more true than this season, the coldest wettest spring in my 11 seasons on the farm. Thankfully there isn’t actually any ice around, but I’m still wearing a sweater and winter boots today.

While I always enjoy a good game of hockey, I enjoy the growing season on the farm even more. I love planting vegetables, tending the fields, and most of all sharing our harvests with all our wonderful members. Oh, and I love eating our fresh vegetables too! So I’m getting a little impatient as the cool days linger. Looking around, it seems we are almost a month behind a normal season. The crops look like May crops, not June crops. Most of the large dairy farms only just have corn poking out of the ground, if they even have it planted yet. Asparagus was very slow in coming…and likewise our vegetables just aren’t ready yet like they usually are.

We’ll see what we can get out of the veggie fields over the next couple of weeks, but I don’t think it will be much besides a few greens. Looking around the fields I feel that our summer crops are off to a good start (all planted at opportune times, well weeded and certainly well watered). By next month we will probably be so hot and sweaty all the time that we won’t even remember what it feels like to be cold and to have nothing fresh to eat except spinach. This way of experiencing life on the farm reminds me of my favorite quote from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden: “During the dry years, the people forgot about the rich years, and when the wet years returned, they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

And it will always be that way. (2).jpg (5).jpg

Spring Season Update

I can smell summer in the air today, finally, but I can’t quite taste it yet. Aside from a little spinach, the crops aren’t quite ready for harvesting yet. Some years deliveries are just around the corner in early June, but this season the crops need more time to grow. Despite the routinely wet weather, we squeezed all our Spring plantings in on time. This includes snap peas, carrots, beets, spinach, lettuces, broccoli, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, melons, watermelons, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and let’s not forget parsnips this year! All of these are in the ground and starting to grow. In order to get all this done on the few dry days we had in May, there were several long weekends of field work and planting before the Monday rains. I figure if God wanted vegetable farmers to take Sundays off, he wouldn’t leave the faucet on all week.

Even though we got everything planted on time, things are slow to get growing because of the cool weather and cold nights mixed in with all the rain. Just two nights ago we hit 39. That’s not cucumber growing weather. Nonetheless, our crops look nice. But we can’t harvest them yet! We’re now expecting a first CSA delivery of Tuesday June 18th.

Meanwhile, we are busy planting the late-season crops (second and third rounds of sweet corn, melons, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, etc). And now that drier weather is upon us, we’re setting up irrigation, doing lots of weeding, and getting organized for the harvest season to begin. We can’t wait for the fresh veggies to start coming in, and I know lots of our members feel the same way. But the plants themselves have decided to wait, so that is what we’ll do!

Customized Vegetable Boxes!

There are two trends in the CSA farm share movement that have been dominating the scene the last several years. The first is that CSA farms are going belly up, all over the country. CSA farms struggle to compete with big box stores that have taken over the same marketing language that CSA farms used to use. Local, sustainable, organic and fresh used to be real words used to describe real food like the vegetables we grow for our farm’s members. Our own vegetables are still among the healthiest and most responsibly grown, but the language surrounding what we grow is getting a bit stale and wilted. Unable to compete with the convenience and never-ending selection of a large store, many small farms have had to call it quits. For the first time in 11 seasons, Old Plank Farm is struggling to fill all it’s membership spaces for the upcoming year. But we are a long way from beaten, and so we are among the lucky ones.

The other trend on small farms is to offer customization of CSA shares for farm members. We think this is a GREAT idea! That’s why the last few years we have been adding customization options for our farm member’s weekly vegetable boxes. This year we’ve got a great system in place. After several years of asking for member feedback, we’ve been able to categorize all the vegetables we grow into three groups.

The 1st group, STAPLE CROPS, are what we plan to pack into every member’s box each week that they are available (4+ of these crops each week). Most of these are available regularly during the season. Old Plank Farm staple crops are onions, green onions, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, summer squash, salad mix, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and winter squash.

The 2nd group, SEASONAL FAVORITES, will also be put into every member’s box when they are in season, which is usually only a few times during the year, or a shorter window of harvest than the STAPLE crops have. (1-2 of these favorites on most weeks). Old Plank Farm seasonal favorites are watermelon, cantaloupe, sugar snap peas, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, garlic, and basil.

The 3rd group, CONTENTIOUS VEGGIES, are the “love ‘em or hate ‘em” crops. Mixed CHOICE BOXES of these crops will be sent to each pick-up site every week, and as a member you get to pick 1-3 of the items you find and add them to your own box. (You’ll be invited to do our survey to rank your favorite/least favorite vegetables before the season begins, to help fine tune our Choice Boxes). Old Plank Farm contentious veggies are beets, spinach, leeks, radishes, chard, bok choi, eggplant, turnips, fennel, kohlrabi, herbs, and arugula.

Finally, an EXCHANGE BOX at your pick-up site is a place where you can leave any unwanted item from your box. This way, you never have to take home something that you know you won’t eat. And if you see something in the exchange box that you want, you can swap it with whatever you decided to get rid of.

If you don’t like vegetables, then no amount of customization will help make you a happy farm member. But if you like most staple vegetables, and want some choice of what you take home each week in your box, then our CSA may be just the right place for you. As an Old Plank Farm member, you’ll be sure you never have to take a box full of kohlrabi home. But if you like kohlrabi, you’ll have the option to take one on any or all of the weeks that we have them available for harvest!

Sign up today, and come visit us at our upcoming Open House, Saturday May 18th. I look forward to being your farmer.

Stephanie Bartel, May 1 2019

First Crop Update

At Old Plank Farm it is tradition to make pancakes after a rain. The purpose is to celebrate the rain, especially as it helps newly planted crops get established. So in spring we eat a lot of pancakes! What could be better, when there is fresh maple syrup to go with them? In between eating pancakes, we’ve had a tremendous first couple weeks of planting cool season crops. Our fall plowing allowed for many beds to dry out and warm up faster than last season. Our snap peas are just coming up now, they were planted on that first beautiful, 65 degree day a couple weeks ago. The first carrot, salad, beets, spinach and chard seedings were put in just before Monday evening’s rain, right on schedule. And our first transplanting of early onions, lettuce, and some beets and spinach also went in before Monday evening’s rain. Tuesday morning? Pancakes!

It’s a little early for us to put out other, less cold-tolerant crops, but within the next month our fields will fill up with a myriad of lovely vegetable plants. Up soon are broccoli, cabbage, more onions, and potatoes. Following the last frost we’ll plant the summer favorites like melons, cucumbers, and sweet corn. Come June, it’ll be time to start harvesting and delivering to our farm members. We still have space available to take on new members, and we appreciate everyone who is interested in joining us this season. Please sign up on our website, and tell your friends and family too! Our crops are your crops, and we can’t wait to share the season with you.

-Stephanie Bartel, April 24, 2019