August is one of the most challenging months on the farm. It is hotter than Hades, and it’s starting to get a little old sweating it out every day! The fun and excitement of the yummy summer crops, such as beautiful tomatoes, are starting to wear off, and the fields are not pretty. Bummer. The good news is that August actually begins our winter season, so it is time to get moving on winter seed purchases and planting, even though it is 100 degrees.
Let’s start with what’s growing in August. By the time August rolls around, it has been hot for several months and any plant pest problems out there have had time to kill our pesticide free crops. Although we use resistant varieties and great cultural practices to mitigate pest damage, in the end nature takes its course. So the snap beans have spots, the cucumber vines need to get pulled out because the leaves have mildew and the tomatoes are missing half of their leaves! Even so, we still pick these things and the savvy CSA member knows this is all just part of life on a small farm. Some plants seem pretty impervious to summer heat and pests. If you can get eggplant past the seedling stage, when flea beetles feed on the leaves, they actually can take plenty of heat and drought and produce really well. Our eggplants are looking great. Our peppers also are able to tolerate summer well, so the CSA bags are getting all kinds of peppers. Longbeans also are fairly tolerant of summer heat and drought. Ours always do very well, however, this year they grew so vigorously they pulled down the trellises. Once they fell on the ground, their days were numbered. We also grew some heirloom pole beans, with the hope that since they were off the ground they would tolerate pests a little better. They did pretty well, however, by the end of August they also were getting sad. The trellised tomatoes worked well. Although blight killed the lower leaves, the tops of the plants continued to grow and produce. Being up in the light and air kept the top part of the plants dry, so they had very little blight. We also grow more cherry, grape, and small paste tomatoes than big round tomatoes, because they are far less susceptible to stink bug damage (the main insect pest in our area for tomatoes). These strategies for tomatoes have worked well, and provided plenty of lovely tomatoes well into September.
August can also be am endurance test to keep things picked, the trellises up, and the weeds to a minimum. During the first part of August, all the crops are in full production. That means we have to be picking daily to keep up. It also means we have to be smart about making sure everything goes somewhere that brings income to the farm. It takes some creative marketing to restaurants, as well as some encouragement to our CSA members to try new eggplant and pepper recipes, and some marketing at the farmers’ market!
We repair trellises almost every week. One of our goals for the winter is to rethink our materials and system for trellising. We spend way too much time on this. Heavy crops, wind and rain seem to pull down even our best efforts. Even so, trellising is a key part of our growing methods because growing vertical increases the cropping area. It also keeps crops off the ground and away from pests, as well as helping the crops stay dry, which also helps deter plant diseases. I think we need to move from an add-hock piece-it-together system, to taking it much more seriously. We need long and strong metal end posts, good top wires for heavy crops, and to replace old wood tomato stakes with strong new ones. Money saved on poor materials results in more money spent on repairs. Live and learn. It will be better next year!
We lay thick mats of straw between the rows of plants to suppress weeds. This works well. Hoeing weeds is demoralizing for the crew, and can be very time consuming. Nobody likes it. I also view hoeing as a non-moneymaking activity, and don’t want people spending time on it, except when plants are extremely young and vulnerable or in a crisis (which we try to avoid). Thick mats of straw between the rows do a decent job keeping the weeds down. It also adds much needed organic matter to the soil, keeps the ground cooler in the heat, conserves moisture, and prevents topsoil and water runoff. Not only that, it keeps the ground covered. I like to keep the ground covered with plants or straw because it seems to me that good soil doesn’t like to be naked. The worms and other soil creatures don’t want to bake in the sun. The habitat for soil life is better under the straw and around the roots of the crop. The straw also breaks down and is a continual source of new organic matter that will eventually feed the plants. It is like the great circle of soil and plant life!
We spray all our crops weekly with seaweed extract. Seaweed helps crops tolerate stresses such as pests, heat and drought, as well as providing some natural micronutrients. It is a key part of our crop management. People have used seaweed on their crops for hundreds of years, knowing it helps crops grow better. If you come out on a Wednesday after school you will see Cullen spraying seaweed on everything and the whole farm smells like the beach! This helps our crops keep on producing despite the stress of August.
Getting Ready for Fall
I know when it is 100 degrees, it might seem anti-intuitive to think about fall, however August is when this happens! Customers are anxious to buy greens again, so we try hard to be the first to the market with beautiful greens and lettuce. Most greens take about 45-60 days from planting until they are ready to pick. Therefore, to have greens ready by the end of September, they must be planted in early August! That’s tough. Even so, we know the customers want this, so we try. This August we planted all types of greens in early August. Some did pretty well. The red russian kale, cabbage, carrots and arugula are looking great. Beets and chard did amazingly well coming up in the heat. Others did not do so well. The mixed mustards, turnips, and pac choy are full of holes from flea beetles. The Lacinado kale and many other cool loving crops just didn’t emerge very well. Some of the problem is that in order to get good emergence and have the cool loving babies stand a chance at growing, you really need regular water. Some of our fields have irrigation and others do not. The last week of August had temperatures near 100 and no rain, which was enough to cook any baby plants that weren’t well watered. We sadly watched much of our hard planting work die. The lesson learned from this is that we need to get better at irrigation. We have a good well. We just need to figure out how to move the water from the well to some of our fields that are some distance away. If any of our veggie friends out there have any expertise on this subject, we sure would appreciate the help. I believe good irrigation may be key to successful produce farming. We ended up replanting many of our more distant fields due to poor emergence.
We opened registration for our Winter CSA to our current Summer CSA members in August. We absolutely love our CSA members, and fully understand what a key part of our business our CSA is. These are customers who are fully committed to fresh local produce and are willing to financially commit to it. Much of what we do every day is to make our CSA as good as it can be. We have been blessed that our CSA is filled to our farming capacity! This is wonderful! We try hard to keep these committed foodie members happy, so we always allow priority CSA sign up for current members. Signups are open to members one month prior to being offered to the general public. We never want an existing member to lose their spot. September 1st we will open to the public. Here is a little secret: We are working hard to be able to expand our farming capacity. Stay tuned!
We have planted lots of beautiful cool season produce for our winter CSA, including kale, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, arugula, rabe, beets, turnips, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins and much more. Winter produce is not only delicious, it is super nutritious. Winter CSA lasts from November 1st until January 31st. Most of the produce comes in November and December. By January, it is a true test of our veggie loving CSA members because the crops that are still around during the coldest part of the winter include storage crops such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, turnips and beets. Only the hardiest of leafy vegetables can grow in the winter. This includes things like curly kale, collard greens, and some mustards. I like the winter crops better than the summer crops. I know people love summer because of all the fruit. I am an anomaly. I love veggies, especially greens! Not only do I love winter crops, I think I grow them better than summer crops. All of my farming Mojo comes out in the winter.
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Eat Your Veggies,