January on the Farm – New Feature on the blog!

We are adding a new feature to the BBB blog. Everywhere you turn in “real food” circles, you hear the phrase “know your farmer”, in order to assure you are buying clean produce.  We think that’s a great idea, in theory, but most people don’t have time to shop for veggies, much less interview the grower, nor would they know what to ask if given the chance. We want our CSA members and other customers to understand what’s happening here on the farm… to connect our diligence in the soil and seed,  to your family’s nourishment.  We want to share what we’re doing around the farm each month, so you can know your farmer, be informed of our pesticide free practices, and make the connection between food and health. January is the perfect place to start!
 January is one of the most difficult months on the farm. By January, most of the
produce is starting to suffer or stop growing due to cold, even under the cold
frames. To go along with that, January is the final month of the winter CSA, a
barren month at the farmers market, and a month that the farm can’t support the
heavy harvesting that restaurants might ask for. The chickens even start to
complain by not laying very many eggs in January. But, to make this whole thing
work, we still need to piece together enough pretty produce and eggs to fill the CSA
bags, keep our presence at the market, and try hard to support our chefs. Wow! That is a pretty tall order. Not only that, January is the time to get very serious about planning and buying seeds, tools, and equipment for spring. It is a myth that
farmers get to go on vacation or sit by the fire in January! Here is what we’re really doing….
In the Field:
Let’s start with what is going on in the field. Many of our fields are full of low
tunnels. These are simple tunnels that are made by creating frames with pieces of
rebar stuck in the ground with ½ inch PVC pipe bent over the row and stuck on the
rebar.Tunnels
Then the PVC is covered with plastic, which is held in place by clamps.
Tunnels in winter
 These tunnels work pretty well to add a few degrees of cold protection on freezing nights, as well as add quite a few degrees of heat on sunny afternoons. The crop has to be planted at very high density in order to take advantage of every inch of this valuable space. It works best to put the taller crops in the center of the row and the smaller crops on the edges of the row where the top of the tunnel is shorter. We like to plant things that work well in this type of ultradense spacing such as lettuce, root vegetables that can be dug at baby size, Asian vegetables, spinach, carrots, and even some herbs.
baby greens 2 Often we will harvest the baby plants and sell them as baby
vegetables.babyrootveggies We do this harvesting strategically, so that as we remove baby plants, it allows room for other plants to grow larger. Eventually, after multiple harvests, the crop is spaced at traditional spacing and can grow to full size. This allows us to harvest one section of produce over a very long period of time and get the biggest bang for the investment in a very small space.
Although CSA members and market customers seem a little intimidated by baby greens and vegetables, the chefs love them! That hesitation might be because CSA members and market customers are not accustomed to cooking or serving baby Asian vegetables, baby root vegetables, or gourmet mesclun mix. We often bring a few containers of these pretty babies to the market, and sometimes put them in the CSA bags. Even though customers might not be completely comfortable with these items, many of them still like to try new things and enjoy knowing they are occasionally getting “gourmet produce” that can’t be found in the grocery store. The key (for us as the CSA manager) is not to “overdo it” with these unusual items, and to understand that for the average cook, dealing with unfamiliar produce can be a little stressful. Additionally, if we are going to offer them at the market or put them in CSA bags, we have to be prepared to explain, in simple terms, how to use them. Our veggie lovers need to be encouraged and successful as they try new things. Expanding the local vegetable consumer’s ability to cook, serve, and love almost any vegetable is a gift of health and food confidence for them and their family.
Outside the tunnels, we have the most cold tolerant plant varieties we can find.
Some of the most cold tolerant plants include certain varieties of kale, collard
greens, turnips, root vegetables, radishes, and brussel sprouts. Winter is also a
time when we may rely on storage crops such as sweet potatoes and winter squash
to fill out the CSA bags. All of this is a huge amount of work because those nice
warm tunnels make the perfect home for weeds. The problem is that getting into
the tunnels to clean everything up is time consuming and challenging (can you say “labor intensive”?!). We stay on a weeding rotation going from one tunnel to the next, on a regular basis. We can’t ignore the weed growth just because it is hiding in the tunnel, or it would get out of control.
This winter we are building a new set of beds just for shade loving crops. That will allow us to expand our product to include more high value crops such as fresh ginger, turmeric, and maybe even wasabi! Sounds like a chef’s dream! This project is in the planning stage currently, and we will actually start building the beds in a partially wooded area of the farm in February. Stay tuned for photos and details next month. The idea is to make use of every inch of usable space on the farm. There are many areas here that are partially shaded and currently not used. Why not try growing some shade loving crops there? Stay tuned for our September update to see how it went. It may be an epic failure or an outrageous success. If we don’t try, we won’t know. Every year we try new things. That keeps us constantly strategizing and being innovative about what we do. It is also a great business asset that keeps things interesting for our customers.
Next time we will share what is going on “in the office”, behind the scenes, for January. Please leave your comments or talk with us at CSA pickups and at Atherton market, to let us know what you think about this new kind of post. We are passionate about what we do, and love sharing it with you! We hope you enjoy getting to “know your farmer”.
Eat your veggies,
Bell
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