November on the Farm

baby red russian kale

The beginning of November is one of the most beautiful on our farm. The winter leafy crops are all in full and glorious production, and the broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are all growing lushly and getting ready to harvest. I love it. Unfortunately, this November brought record cold. The second week of November had temperatures in the high 20’s, and the third week of November had temperatures in the teens. That’s enough to shut the farm down for the year. Not being prone to give up easily, we did all we could to save our crops. We sprayed them with seaweed extract, and we covered all that we could with Agribon. The result was some dead, some alive. That is better than I expected, though.

When we got back from Thanksgiving, we had the job of crop triage. We investigated every crop and decided if it still had harvest potential. Then, we had our crew trim the damaged leaves off of everything that had the most potential to survive and come to harvest. Things that did well included the cold tolerant lettuce varieties (Speckled trout, Adriana, Winter Density), the cold tolerant broccoli (Marathon), and the cold tolerant Brussels sprouts (Churchill). The Siberian and winterbor kale also did pretty well. Sadly, everything else was pretty much a loss. The chard was burned to the ground, but hopefully will grow back. The lacinado and red Russian kale was all a loss. The mesclun mix, mustards, and mizuna were all lost.

Most of the root vegetables had damage to the leaves, but the roots did not freeze, and now the tops are growing back. I learned something new. The extreme cold seemed to elicit growth of the roots. Turnips that were the size of a marble magically became baseball sized! All our radishes, turnips, and beets came through the freeze with flying colors, and are now doing better than ever. I was walking around the farm with Vaden (farm crew) discussing what to maintain or remove, and we decided that things all in all looked remarkably well for such an extreme cold. You really have to love the south!

Winter Farming Small File

Things slow down nicely in November. There is nothing to plant, the weeds hardly matter, and we don’t need to worry about our spring planting and CSA until at least the new year. This leaves time for attending conferences, business analysis, and some time off. We went to the Sustainable Ag Conference this November. It was an educational conference, and we attended several classes that were well worth the trouble. I went to classes on weed management, farm equipment, record keeping and analysis, as well as wild food to forage. It was refreshing to learn. Learning is one of my core values, and it bothers me when we are so busy just “maintaining”, and not taking time to seriously consider what we are doing and why. November helps.

Part of our learning this November was to put together an income and expense statement for our CSA, restaurant business, and market business. The goal was to see what is profitable and worth our time, and what is taking our time, but not making money. I know it is hard to believe we have been doing this for five years and do not know those answers. I have no excuse other than saying that I grow good crops. That is my core strength. Accounting and business analysis might not be my strength, so it was easy to not do it. This year is the first year Jay has worked the farm full time, so having him and his business background also helped push us in that direction.

We learned that all of the aspects of the business are at least slightly profitable. None are in the red. We also saw that our CSA and restaurant business do fairly well, but selling at the market is a lot of work for not so much money. It is complicated though. The market is where we have a CSA drop off. The market is where we meet lots of chefs. The market is also where we chat with people interested in food and health, who eventually become CSA members. Things are not so black and white.

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Here are a few more key learnings. The most profitable items at the market are the ones nobody else grows. We can grow the most beautiful kale in the world, but if six other growers are growing the same thing, it is harder to sell and not very profitable. This winter we plan to work on our cropping strategy, and get more brave about stepping out of the box with what we grow for restaurants and the market. We will still grow the basic things CSA members love. Another key learning is that we are putting in an enormous amount of time. We only have so many daylight hours, and we need to be sure we are putting our time and energy into systems that work. We can’t do it all, so we must prioritize, as well as make better use of the skills of those who help us.

Our last key learning for November is not underestimating the value of planned time off. This is the first year we have built in time off into our CSA and other aspects of the farm. It is key to preventing burn out. Not only do we have to take the time off, we have to go away. If we stay here, we just keep working because there is always something to do. This Thanksgiving we went to Pawley’s Island for a week. I honestly spent the first three days just reading and napping. It was raining all three days and I loved it! Even better, we spent time with people we love, another core value I can’t forget to honor.

Relax and eat your veggies!
Robin

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