The most important thing we did “in the field” this month is train our farm help to pick and pack the CSA bags. No, not the farm help pictured above. We love them, but packing bags is not in their job description. Here are the key concepts to getting a great CSA bag together:
1. Only pack 5 bags at a time. If you have 25 bags all over the pack house, you will make mistakes. Keep it small and manageable. Also, by only packing 5 bags at a time, they go back in the cold room quicker and are not left sitting out for hours.
2. Pack all of one type bag at a time. For example, pack all the Mini Bags, then the Standard Bags, then the Big Bags, then the Juice Bags. By doing all of one type at a time, Jon is able to better focus on what he is doing. If he tried to pack them all at once it would be too chaotic.
3. Heavy veggies like sweet potatoes, onions and beets go in first, on the bottom of the bag.
4. Wrap all leafy vegetables in bags so they don’t wilt.
5. Label all leafy green vegetables. We learned this from some sweet CSA members who informed us last year that they loved all the veggies, but had no idea what they were! They couldn’t even Google a recipe. These veggies are so second nature to us, we forgot they are very new to some people. Not everyone can tell the difference between chard and spinach.
6. Label all bags with the member’s name, pick up location, type of bag, and how many dozen eggs. We attach index cards to the bags for this purpose.
We also spent quite a bit of time training our employees to harvest for our CSA. Here are some key things they must ALWAYS do:
1. Leafy vegetables have to be harvested in the morning when it is cool. If you harvest them in the afternoon when it is hot and sunny, they will be wilted.
2. All vegetables have to be out of the sun once they are picked. That means the bins and buckets are in the shade and our packing table is in the shade.
3. Be fast. Time is of the essence. The fragile fruit and vegetables have to be picked and out of the field before it gets warm. That means there is a very short window to get the work done. Employees need to feel this sense of urgency since we only have those few critical hours to harvest.
4. Know what you are harvesting. Employees need our help to be able to work independently. That means they need to know what everything is and where it is growing. We need to invest a lot of time to teach all this, however, if we don’t take the time to teach it, then I have to do it all myself and that is just not possible with this size CSA.
Not only is April the start of the CSA, it is also a time when almost everything needs to be planted or cleaned up from the winter. The first week of April we removed all the low tunnels and had the un-fun work of cleaning all the weeds out from the gardens that had been happily hiding in the tunnels. Then we spread straw between all the planted rows to suppress weeds. Hoeing weeds is a job that is time consuming and nobody likes! The better we can bury them in straw, the less we have to hoe. The straw also breaks down and helps build the soil. It works well.
The blueberries bloom in April. Judging by the numbers of blooms we should have a great crop this year! During this time of year we always give a good foliar feed of seaweed extract to our blueberries. They love it! We also have loaded the soil with compost during the winter. They are primed to go. I can’t stand to waste that part of the land between the blueberry bushes that is open space and full of beautiful compost. So, we plant that space with radishes. By the time they are harvested, it will be just about the time that the bushes are fully leafed out and starting to takeup that space. It is an example of simple intercropping. We started a new blueberry field this year with some brand new varieties. One of them is called Pink Lemonade. It doesn’t turn blue. It will be interesting to see if anyone likes that, or if they view it as not quite ripe. We also bought some new blueberry varieties while we were at the Southeast Fruit and Vegetable Expo in January. They are all in the ground, leafed out and happy! We love blueberries. We are even thinking of buying another little piece of property just for berries! Know of anyone selling a few acres in Union County? Not only do we love blueberries, but we love ALL berries! This spring we planted a few new things. We planted some goji berries, honey berries, mulberry, and a cherry tree. I am always looking for something new and cool that our customers will love!
The local chefs in the Charlotte area are pretty brave and seem to really like it when we bring the beautiful and unusual to them. So, this spring we brought wild chickweed, wild sweet violets and confederate violets, wild edible flowers, pea shoots, nasturtium shoots, wasabi spiced arugula and garlic scallions. They loved them all and asked for more! Oh boy. This is right up my alley! We seriously increased the size of our herb garden just for the chefs. We now have 5 different types of mint, 3 types of oregano, 2 types of thyme, 3 types of sage, 2 types of parsley, and a host of other obscure herbs. I can’t wait to see how the chefs like them! By the last week of April we hope to have almost everything planted. Because we have a very limited amount of land, we end up interplanting our summer crops with our cool season crops. So, for example, we put tomato transplants in the row with the kale. The kale provides some shade and we gradually harvest it all out of the way so the tomatoes can grow. This is challenging to work this way, but it works well to make the best use of our land. We don’t have the space to keep fallow ground, so we are challenged to constantly amend our soils with compost and always have it in production. I have heard this can’t be done, however we have been doing it for the past five years with no problems. We have a new field we brought into production this summer. We brought this field into production after our horse died (used to be her pasture), in order to have a place to grow larger quantities of certain crops for chefs and CSA. This winter we had beautiful kale in that field. Right now it has proven to be so wet that it is almost impossible to work the soil to plant. Over half that field is still not in spring production. The goal this last week of April is to get it planted. Right now our winter crops are almost at full glory. We have had very few pest problems, great growing weather, and some really nice growth. By the end of the month we will be adding our warm season crops to the mix, that will include specialty tomatoes, specialty cucumbers, different sorts of peppers, different types of squash, colorful snap beans, Chinese longbeans, and a host of other warm season plants. We love this time of year! The best is when we finally realize that it is all in the ground and all that is left is to watch it grow and enjoy the garden of Eden that we live in.
We hired a couple of new farm helpers, Jonathan and Cullen. These farm boys are students at Piedmont Highschool. They do a great job and we can’t wait until they are out of school so we can put them to work every day. We are trying to gut out the harvesting and planting with the knowledge that it should get better in June when school ends. We need a great worker who needs a job just for a month or two. We had a great guy from UNCC named Aaron who helped us pack produce on Fridays, but unfortunately for us, he left to commit to his school internship in accounting. We were sad to see him go, but happy for his academic success. Farm work is hard work. It takes a special and passionate person who truly loves the whole thing. If the person lacks the passion for this, it is just plain old hard work!
Next time we will update you on the chickens!
Eat your veggies,