Dear CSA members,
As I write this, the snow has blanketed the ground, something we have rarely seen this winter. The difference from last year is dramatic: last week we planted peas, carrots, and lettuce directly in the ground, while last year at the same time we still had over a foot of snow on the ground, and weren’t even thinking of planting.
The warm weather has kept us busier than usual. We decided to undertake a major expansion effort: we cleared 1.5 acres of land for a future planting of fruit and nut trees. It was distressing to cut down so many trees, although they were in poor health due to the invasive vine bittersweet. The vines overwhelmed many of the young trees, killing them completely by out competing them for sunlight. This gave us some solace that we were doing the right thing, removing a young, but dieing forest, to be replaced by an orchard that could provide a great deal of food for people locally. By the time the CSA starts in May the area should be green with cover crop grasses, which we are planting to prevent erosion and improve the health of the soil before getting the new trees in. We need to give this cleared area another year before doing most of the planting so that we can eliminate the bittersweet and prevent it from taking over the orchard.
Raluca has been hard at work in the greenhouse, starting onions in soil blocks. They are already sprouting! She also started cabbage, broccoli and kale. Last year we planted broccoli in the fall, which didn’t do well due to insect damage; this year we are trying a spring planting instead. Last fall, we (actually it was mostly two CSA volunteers) squished caterpillars on the broccoli for many weeks, trying to control them, but in vain. However, in 2011 our spring cabbage, which is in the same family as broccoli, did very well, so we are optimistic that an early planting of broccoli will be a success.
Our most time consuming efforts during the winter are planning related: seed orders, soil amenity order, supplies order, planting plan, fertility plan, organizing the CSA for the season ahead, etcetera. Another major task this winter has been our recipe book. We have many recipes on our website, and last year we tried to print some out for CSA members to take, but that didn’t work too well. So this year we are handing out a recipe book instead, as part of the CSA membership. We hope that the book will be helpful by giving suggestions for preparing less common vegetables, and providing some new ideas for the more common ones. We also included storage information and the time of season when each vegetable is available. We do believe that eating fresh food, prepared from raw ingredients, is a key aspect of maintaining health, and we hope that this book together with our vegetables will be useful in that respect.
Late last year, we built a new unheated greenhouse and a few weeks ago, at the beginning of February, we planted crops in it. It seems a bit strange to be able to plant crops in the ground at that time of year, even in a greenhouse. We planted beets, carrots, spinach, lettuce, radishes, claytonia and tatsoi (these last two are for salad mix). Everything has germinated and is growing well! This greenhouse will also be planted with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants at the end of April. If all goes well, we hope to have these crops ready for the CSA weeks earlier than last year.
Lettuce Carrot Spinach Radishes
In our little greenhouse, over-wintered spinach and claytonia will be ready soon for spring sales.
We have 25 chicks that were born February 22nd, laying hens. There are a couple of small hoop tunnels out front of the house; those are for the chicks to go in next week. We try to get them outside as soon as we so they can be eating bugs, grass, gravel, and whatever else they want. They should start laying in August.
Over the past few months, Ed has been researching how we could test the nutritional quality of the food we grow. It is not financially feasible for us to test our vegetables for a wide spectrum of nutrients (although we’d like to) because it would cost almost $1000 per sample, and we would need to do many samples. The US Department of Agriculture does have some info on the average nutritional content of various foods, but it does not report what the main variables, or contributing factors to optimal nutritional quality are. Some factors we obviously expect to impact nutrition are soil health, soil mineral balance, rain, irrigation, temperature, pesticide use, and organic matter; additionally we expect plant variety, weed pressure, and planting density to have an impact. How to further pursue this task, or how to persuade others to do so, is where Ed is now. Want to talk about it? Give Ed a call.
We are also very concerned about the quality of the food we buy and want to make sure our children eat well. We would like to know if you have such concerns, and what they are. We propose to have a gathering at our house on Saturday March 17th at to hear and discuss your concerns about food, as well as our concerns, and possibly what we collectively can do about it. Please let us know if you are interested.
At this time of year, we always look forward to the coming season, with hope and anticipation, and also a little bit of anxiety. In farming, we know how very dependent we are on forces beyond our control. We also look forward to meeting all of our new CSA members, and reconnecting with those who have been with us for a while. And always, we send our thanks and gratitude to the Earth, who gives us everything.
Peace and Blessings,
Ed and Raluca