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


Planting Season

Another season is upon us. The fields at Old Plank Farm are drying out nicely. We plowed several beds last fall, which helps the soil to warm up and dry out faster this time of year. I managed to get a few beds of cover crop seeded last week (oats and peas, which will be followed by late-season veggies in a couple of months). That’s the earliest in my records. Most of the fields are still too wet, but very soon we’ll begin seeding the sugar snap peas and spring carrots, and transplanting all the lovely crops growing in our greenhouse right now. I look forward to planting season immensely. And I hope all our farm members look forward to the harvest season just as much!

We have one decade of growing under our belt and a new one is just beginning. Heading into our 11th season, we are eager to continue our commitment to high quality organics and our commitment to helping you eat high quality vegetables. As chain-store organics gain a stronger foothold in local stores, high quality organics becomes more and more compromised. Joining a farm membership program like the one we offer is a sure way to stay connected to the food you eat and the land it’s grown on. You can find more information about our Memberships here. We hope you’ll be a part of Old Plank Farm in 2019!!

-Stephanie Bartel, April 4 2019

Leeks in the greenhouse, recently trimmed and looking smart!

Leeks in the greenhouse, recently trimmed and looking smart!

Spring Open House May 18th

This season we are hosting an open house at the farm on Saturday May 18th. Mark your calendars, if you want a chance to visit the farm before the season begins. You can tour the seedling greenhouse, ask questions about our membership program, and sign up for a membership if you haven’t already. We’ll have kids activities in our packing shed, and we’ll be kicking off our annual plant sale where you can purchase tomato plants and other vegetable and herb plants for your own garden.

More details coming soon!

Blindfolded Farming

As I dig deeper and deeper (pun intended) into soil microbiology, I'm discovering just how interesting, and essential, this facet of life is to a truly organic and sustainable system. In past years I've only had soil biology on the periphery of my mind, aware that it is important, but not actively doing much about it. Sure, we put out compost and occasionally some compost tea, which in theory improves one's soil biology. But in reality? Well, that depends entirely on what microorganisms are actually in the compost and compost tea. So how can we tell what's in the products we apply? LOOK at it. That is, with a microscope.

So learning microscopy has been taking up all my time and focus lately. I’ve fallen behind on newsletters, I've been slow responding to emails, I haven't called my mother in awhile...the list goes on.

Soon enough we'll be working in the greenhouses and then the field. By then, I hope to have a strong grasp of how to look at what's going on in our soils. In fact, it seems almost crazy that most of us farmers don't know how to see what's in our soils. We wouldn't put a blindfold on, walk around the field, and come back and say "I think the veggies are doing pretty well." Of course not. We open our eyes and look at the crops. Likewise, as I look at slides I feel as though a blindfold I didn't even know I was wearing has been taken off. A microscope can open our eyes to seeing our soil's microorganisms and seeing how they are doing. And I intend to keep my eyes wide open this season.