Getting ready for winter
Posted 11/10/2017 8:12am by Stephanie Bartel.
As we head into our final week of delivery, most things are going well at the farm, despite the deep freeze that came down so suddenly upon us. We managed to get everything out of the field by yesterday morning, and we'll be washing and packing up those last few things for the CSA box next Tuesday. Some nice carrots and Brussels sprouts and other great fall crops, too! I look forward to sharing this last harvest with all our members, and sharing some of my seasonal reflections soon, too.
A tractor accident last month has left me with a broken arm, and I find that writing and typing is just as difficult as harvesting carrots, bagging potatoes, or any farm work at all that I now do one-handed. Nonetheless, we have been carrying on here fairly normally. This month we will be busy finishing up this season's work, tucking the farm in for hibernation, and beginning planning for next season. As I was planting the last of the garlic the other day, I couldn't help but get excited for next spring already. But before the garlic can send up its new green shoots next March it must go through a long, dark and cold season first. The garlic does this so gracefully, and we as farmers must get ready to do the same.
The Last Pepper
Posted 10/26/2017 3:57pm by Stephanie Bartel.
We harvested the last of the peppers before the frost hit last night. It was a good year for our peppers, and a lot of the ones that went out earlier in the season were quite large and lovely too. At first glance, this last round of peppers doesn't look like it stacks up to the rest of the lot. These are smaller, often a bit misshapen, and also will be nearly a week old by the time they make it in the CSA boxes. That was my first thought when I looked over the harvest, and I even wondered if they are worth giving out.
But then I thought a little more about their hidden value. Unless you keep a heated greenhouse full of pepper plants in your backyard, this is probably the last fresh pepper you will get to eat until next June or July. This one rag-tag little pepper is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated because it celebrates the end of the life of this year's pepper crop.
Seasonal change offers me a constant reminder to be grateful for whatever crops we are able to harvest at any given moment in time. Sure, you can buy a pepper in town this winter that will have been shipped from another community in some distant climate. In fact, I just checked and you can buy green peppers on Amazon.com and get them shipped to your door. But I think I'll pass on this convenience and enjoy looking forward to next year's crop instead.
On the Importance of Greens and Commas
Posted 9/18/2017 6:40pm by Stephanie Bartel.
“ A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
'Why?' asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.
'I'm a panda,' he says, at the door. 'Look it up.'
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves. ” ― Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
The above quotation is one of my favorite jokes, combining my love of vegetables with my love of punctuation (I'm not exactly in love with punctuation, but I do appreciate the art of writing and the grammatical rules that go with it).
This week's CSA box includes shoots (sunflower shoots) and leaves (spinach for everyone, chard for some). So we can all have fun eating like a panda this week.
Besides acting like a panda bear (how could that not be fun?), eating shoots and leaves can be a great way to get healthy. Shoots (sometimes called sprouts or microgreens) are among the most nutrient-dense green things we can eat. A little container goes a long way; shoots make great sandwich or salad toppings. This week's CSA sunflower shoots got a little bit too big (sudden hot weather made a big difference in their rate of growth);but we are enjoying eating them and wanted to share them with all our members too. We'll try growing them again at least once more this season and hope to improve on flavor and texture.
Spinach and chard are among my favorite greens for smoothies. They taste great mixed with frozen strawberries, peaches, banana and a little honey. Besides taste, the nourishment is unmatched. If you aren't used to eating fresh greens on a regular basis, give it a try. I hope you'll notice a burst of energy in your day. Eating such lively food really can make you feel more lively, too. While all the Old Plank Farm vegetables are grown with love and filled with life, I think greens are particularly successful at transferring these energizing feelings straight into our bodies as we eat them.
With that, I'll wrap things up by saying: Let's eat CSA members!
Oh wait, I meant to say: Let's eat, CSA members!
Commas save lives...and so do vegetables.
Mother Nature Doesn't Give Participation Trophies
Posted 8/31/2017 4:17pm by Stephanie Bartel.
There has been a lot of ups and downs this season from my perspective here at the farm. As I walked around the field last weekend, I was particularly dismayed by the failure of our cantaloupe crop. We planted approximately 4-5 melon plants per CSA member this season. If a plant even yielded 1 marketable fruit we would have enough to go around this time of year. When we planted the melons we gave each plant a hearty scoop of compost, and then we side-dressed them with compost partway through the season. They are among the least-weedy crops on our farm. Onions and potatoes are among the weediest this season, and yet they just keep on growing. So since we worked harder than ever for our summer favorite, I am very disappointed to not have any fruit set on our plants, except a few small misshapen ones that start rotting before fully ripening.
But here's the thing: mother nature doesn't give participation trophies. She doesn't give us melons just because we worked really hard and hoped to have a good harvest. Instead she gives us cold damp nights in August, the last nail in the coffin for these poor plants, which were suffering from excessive dampness and poor pollination already. Some things will do fine in this weather. Some things won't. In general summer fruits have been below average so far, and the coming cold isn't likely to help much. A peek at the fall carrots and sweet potatoes which will start to be ready soon raises my spirits slightly. This reality that we as farmers and CSA members have to face is beautiful and cruel all at the same time. Regardless of how one looks at it, the point is that it's real.
I am hopeful that we can find a good, sustainable system for growing cantaloupes in the future, without relying on plastics and soluble fertilizers which are all too common on both organic and conventional farms. But I won't dwell on this anymore now. It's the last day of August and we still have many weeks left in our season, many other crops to tend, and many other things to do before the North wind settles down on us.
Meet the Farmily
Posted 8/17/2017 4:31pm by Stephanie Bartel.
The Old Plank Farm Family, or Farmily, is everyone who works each year at the farm in order to grow your weekly boxes of vegetables. This year’s Farmily is largely the same as last season’s, except for a couple new faces (and one new birth!). Here’s a brief overview of all of us:
Stephanie Bartel. That’s me. Yep, I’m still here, nine years after starting Old Plank back in 2008. What more can I say?
Angelica Immel. Back after four seasons, Angelica’s experience and intuitive understanding of our way of farming makes her help here indispensable! She is often the one in communication with you all through our weekly newsletter. She also coordinates the packing and delivery of your shares, and does our Kohler delivery route. But most of her time (and everyone else’s time, too) is spent in the field, tirelessly working at planting, weeding and harvesting. She’s the best bean picker and carrot weeder east of the Mississippi.
The Laswells. Sammi used to work here more often in past years. This year she was pregnant with her second child. Sammi helped off and on throughout the summer, as her pregnancy allowed. This past Monday, August 14th, she gave birth to a baby girl, Elowen. We are all excited for this addition to her family! Sammi’s husband Ryan works full-time at NOURISH in Sheboygan, but also helps out here occasionally. He usually leads tours during our open house/pizza nights. Their 4-yr old daughter Finnleigh has recently been helping with these tours and is, apparently, quite good at it!
Scott and Laura Bailey. The Bailey’s are Sammi’s parents, and they are the farm’s most behind-the-scenes awesome workers. Scott fixes everything I break (which is a lot!), and Laura takes care of the animals and does all our yard upkeep, among other things. Before Scott and Laura came to the farm three years ago, we had 8’ tall burdock growing around the yard, among other problems. Not anymore, thanks to the both of them.
Jake Menzynski is here as a first-year intern this season. He’s also Angelica’s boyfriend, and has been a great addition to the farm so far. He’s able and willing to do anything that needs to be done. Our farm dog, Max, especially loves his presence here. Jake’s been training Max to eat vegetables, which is always amusing to watch during our lunch breaks. Angelica and I are happy that he’ll be working with us at least through the end of the season.
Joe Drewry spent his summer here as a first-year intern this season, too. He heads back to college in Michigan next week, to finish up his senior year of environmental studies. After a summer of hard work out in the field, he should have no trouble lifting a pen! He’ll be missed especially when we are picking tomatoes; he is the only one of us not afraid of the huge tomato spiders that we find in the field.
Cassandra Marthaler is our neighbor who spends her summers working with us. When she started here three years ago Cassandra didn’t know what kale was. Now she’s trying it out in green smoothies. We all love having her as part of the crew, and she will be missed when she heads off to her senior year of high school in a couple of weeks. She wants to go on to be a large-animal vet. But we look forward to one more summer with her next season before starting college.
Nichole Kloss. Nichole spent her second summer here with us this year. She only works occasionally, when we need an extra hand, because she is busy on her own homestead, establishing an orchard there, and—as of this fall—teaching first grade in Milwaukee.
That’s our core Farmily. Extended Farmily includes several other volunteers and worker-shares who help make everything run more smoothly during our busiest times. These people include:
Bing Drewry. We grow a few things over at Bing’s homestead just outside of town. He turned 90 years old this past May, but continues to do much of the tractor work in his gardens for us. His favorite crops to grow are sweet corn and peppers. We have our potato crop down by him this year too, and it is looking like it will be a good one.
Dan and Chris Drewry. The Drewry’s often bag up various items like salad mix and carrots on Mondays for us. They also do a lot of the work in their family’s woods, helping to bring us Drewry Farms maple syrup in your second CSA box.
Jessica Gallipeau. Jessica has been helping pack shares on Tuesday mornings for many years! She also delivers our Sheboygan CSA shares, which helps keep our delivery routes manageable.
The Immels. Angelica’s two sisters, Emma and Natalie Immel, come Tuesday mornings to pack your shares during their summer vacation. They start 6th and 9th grade in a couple of weeks, and we will miss them! Angelica’s mom Christine writes your kitchen blog, “A People’s Pantry” each week. Angelica’s dad Jason isn’t around the farm as much as the rest of the Immels, but you may find him helping make pizzas during some of the upcoming open houses…! Angelica’s one-year old brother Abe just entertains us with cuteness when he is around the farm. Next year he’ll be weeding for us. Just kidding.
It is nothing less than humbling for me to share this farm with all these wonderful people. Without each of them, our farm would be missing a piece of the puzzle that sustainable farming inevitably is. I hope that as you unpack, wash, prep, and eat your veggies each week, you remember that your support of Old Plank Farm is so appreciated by all of us.
Balancing on the Bridge
Posted 8/10/2017 2:31pm by Stephanie Bartel.
Last week we dug leeks and scallions. It went great, except that you couldn’t hardly tell them apart. Our scallions are some of the biggest and most beautiful that we’ve ever grown, and they were a joy to harvest. Our leeks were some of the smallest that we’ve ever grown, and were kind of a pain to harvest. In the end, they were basically the same size. Which isn’t really a problem, except that I generally expect my leeks to achieve bigger size than they did this time around.
Both leeks and scallions were planted in the same part of the field and were exposed to virtually the same weather, weed pressure, and care from us farmers. So why did these scallions have their best season ever and these leeks have their worst? I can speculate, but can’t say exactly why this is the case. What interests me more is to look at how this situation sheds light on the idea of a perfect growing season.
On a diversified vegetable farm, there is no such thing as a perfect growing season. This is because various crops thrive under various conditions. Though it isn’t a perfect growing season, I would say this year has been generally very good weather. Working around frequent rains has been a challenge, but not needing to irrigate has been a blessing. However, our leeks and scallions remind me that there is no such thing as a “perfect” season on a farm. Even when one variable—like weather—works in our favor, there are many other variables that can affect the final harvest (deer pressure comes to mind in what would have otherwise been a great summer for lettuce!).
Rather than strive for perfection—an unrealistic ideal that could easily lead to frustration and burn-out—we strive to simply make the best of the conditions that Old Plank Farm is faced with. My perspective here is not meant to sound passive towards my role as a farmer, nor carry any hint of resignation to uncontrollable forces. Instead, I see my role is like being on a bridge between the natural world that governs all things and the cultivated world that I help govern on this farm. I’m always on the bridge, trying to stay in tune with what nature is doing for the farm and in tune with what I can do for the farm. Staying on this bridge is a fundamental part of Old Plank Farm’s growing practices. Making the best of what nature offers is a key to maintaining a sustainable farm.
So much of commercial agriculture is largely out-of-touch with nature these days. Modern scientific methods strive more and more toward perfection in the field…uniform, large and early crops at nearly any cost has been a trend on farms, both organic and conventional. That sort of perfection may be desirable to humans, but not always to nature.
So no, we aren’t having a perfect season. My leeks can tell you that. But we are having a good season, and I am still on my bridge, working with nature as best as I can.
Deer With Binoculars, and Other Field Updates
Posted 7/27/2017 4:21pm by Stephanie Bartel.
Last Friday around 11:00 in the morning I was out in the field prepping a bed for planting rutabagas later that day. As I walked down along the bed, moving the drip tape out of the way, I saw that there was a section that still had some nice head lettuce in it. A few weeks earlier we had cut most of the head lettuce from the bed. Actually, we had cut what the deer hadn’t already eaten, which was most of it. Deer have been a regular problem this season. They take one big bite out of the center of a head of lettuce and then they move on to a new one. In this way we have seen hundreds of heads of lettuce be demolished just a night or two before we are ready to harvest for our CSA.
Anyway, in the bed I was walking last Friday there was a hundred or so good heads that both the deer and I had missed. So I left them, prepped the bed around the heads, and planned to cut them this Monday for the week’s CSA boxes.
Later Friday afternoon we went out to plant. It was about 4pm when we came to the bed where I had found the lettuce earlier in the day. To my dismay I saw that the deer had eaten every single head from the bed.
Our main vegetable field is a thirty-acre garden with lettuce and other vegetables planted all throughout it. How did the deer find that one little spot where I had been earlier in the day? How did they decide to go eat from it before we got back out to plant? How come they didn’t take anything but those hundred heads? I imagined them watching me from the woods with binoculars, planning their lunch. Though I don’t appreciate that they eat the lettuce (more often they eat the clover and that is perfectly ok!), it is interesting to be reminded of the presence of other lives all around my farm. If not binoculars, there was some other connection the deer had with me that day, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time.
Other than about 30% of our lettuce being ravaged by deer, we are generally having a good start to our harvest season. Carrots are the highlight right now, and members will receive a hearty helping in next week’s box, and in some August boxes too.
Some of our fruiting crops, like zucchini and cucumbers, are struggling from a lack of pollination (I think). We see honeybees in our field, and know that they are attracted to our gardens because of the clover we plant and because we don’t spray anything harmful to them. That said, something is amiss with our zucchini and cucumber fruits, which are not developing properly. We have a few right now, and hope for better fruits on the later plantings that will mature in a few weeks.
Fall brassicas that were recently planted are off to a good start. This includes the rutabagas, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and others that we look forward to in late September and October. Planting season is finally winding down. It’s been a long one, and a good one.
To Spray or Not to Spray
Posted 6/29/2017 8:11am by Stephanie Bartel.
To spray, or not to spray: that is the question.
No, actually that is not the question to be asking if you want to get to the bottom of how your crops are being raised.
The question "Do you spray?" often comes to me loaded with the assumption that every spray a farmer may use is a non-organic, petroleum-based chemical in the form of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. It's true that this is one type of spraying, generally used in conventional and/or commercial agriculture. This type of spraying is not a part of organic and sustainable agriculture and so, in this sense, at Old Plank Farm we do not spray our crops.
However, there are other types of water-soluble, organic materials that a farmer may want to spray for any number of reasons. For example, at Old Plank Farm we are using compost teas this season. These and other Biodynamic solutions are perhaps some of the most sustainable and organic ways to help maintain a farm field. If you're interested in compost teas, Biodynamics, or any of Rudolph Steiner's teachings, here's one place to start reading.
So a question that will get you a more enlightened answer about a farm's practices may be, "What do you spray on your fields?" If nothing else, most vegetable farmers are spraying water at some point during their season! These past two weeks we have not had to water anything--except in the greenhouses-- as the regular rains are taking care of that for us. And in between the rains we continue to plant more and more crops, which will provide us with our fall harvests of cabbages, broccoli, carrots, and much, much more.
The Choice Box
Posted 6/22/2017 9:00am by Stephanie Bartel.
I tend to agree with Calvin's dad in this great comic strip, that there are often too many choices for things like peanut butter at your average grocery store. On the other side of the spectrum, the average CSA box offers the consumer virtually no choice at all but to eat what the farmer's put in their box every week. So if grocery stores are paralyzing with too much choice and CSAs are stifling with too little choice, what am I to do about that?
Well, in the big picture, not a lot. But for our little CSA at Old Plank Farm, we have come up with a way to mitigate member preferences while still maintaining the pre-packed box distribution model. We trialed it a bit last year, and we're using it every week this year. It's called the Choice Box. We are packing variety boxes to send along to each pick-up site this year. Taking 1-3 items from these boxes is what completes a CSA members' share each week.
The basic CSA box is still packed here at the farm and distributed to each member. But the choice boxes are then filled with more unusual vegetables, or contentious vegetables (like kale and parsley), or the things we have a surplus of. While one member may never want parsley--crazy, right?!--, another member may want it every week--crazy, right?!. By strategically packing the choice boxes, we are doing our best to get every CSA member more variety of the things they like most.
CSA members, please give us feedback on the choice boxes. While we can't respond to a request for watermelon in next week's choice box (because melons aren't ripe this time of year), we can likely adjust the ratio of salad greens to parsley in the coming week's choice boxes.
Well, I'm off to have a parsley smoothie. It's a good thing I live at Old Plank Farm, because the CSA boxes never have enough parsley in them for my tastes!
Happy Salad-Eating Season, Old Plank Farm CSA members. I hope it's a good one for you.
Field Updates - Planting Season
Posted 6/15/2017 1:15pm by Stephanie Bartel.
My world seemed to green up overnight, as it always does. Our fields that were brown and bare just a month or so ago are now a shimmering sea of green clover interspersed with strips of vegetable seedlings. The rains this week came at a great time. We had a dry stretch of weather last week for transplanting and seeding more crops, and now the warm, wet weather will help most of these get off to a good start.
Crops we've planted over the last month include melons, kohlrabi, peppers, broccoli, lettuce, sweet potatoes, scallions, leeks, eggplant, tomatoes, beets, carrots, salad mix, cilantro, basil, watermelons, cucumbers, potatoes, Swiss chard, pumpkins, pie pumpkins, zucchini, yellow zucchini, yellow squash, winter squash, fennel, celery, okra, and probably a couple other things that aren't at the top of my head. But most of the time all my vegetables are at the top of my head, especially during planting season. It's been a busy one. And now we are looking forward to starting harvest season, too.
Of course, most of those crops that were just planted are not yet ready for harvest. But other crops from early spring plantings are ready to go out in our first box next week. We expect to have salad mix, spinach, snap peas, garlic scapes, basil, lettuce, and parsley to harvest. Angelica's weekly newsletter will offer CSA members more details about the first pick-up. If you are a CSA member and do not receive her weekly newsletter, please let us know. That is our main way of communicating delivery information to you in a timely manner!
A few of our spring crops are not looking very good. Turnips and the very first broccoli transplants come to mind. Temperature stress and flea beetles have taken their toll, but we will still try to get some harvest out of them. Both these crops we will plant again, several times, and they often do better for us later in the season.
As planting season overlaps harvest season, we are at our busiest right now. Thankfully, weed pressure is not as bad this year as in past years,which lightens our load just a bit. We are using clover out in the vegetable gardens to help suppress weeds. Clover is a low growing, nitrogen fixing, non-threatening crop to plant alongside vegetables, and is something of an unsung hero in a sustainable vegetable garden. With more than 20 acres in vegetable/clover gardens at Old Plank Farm this year, perhaps it's time I write a song about clover!