Saturday morning

Saturday mornings, for the last year and a half, have been off to market days for us.  Our little town has been blessed with the opportunity to build a thriving year round farmer’s and artisan’s market, and having somewhere to bring winter produce to sell during the off months of our CSA program is really great.  Growing food year round has been a fun and satisfying part of our farm adventure here in Oregon.  And for us especially, having moved from the much colder Midwest, being able to grow so much out in the open through the winter has been amazing.

Here in the Willamette Valley, there is so much that can be grown out of doors through the entire year.  Winter hardy greens top the list, but root crops like carrots, beets, turnips, and rutabagas can also stay in the ground and be harvested from through the winter, and the really fun stuff is the overwintering sprouting broccolis and cauliflowers that are such a treat come the end of the cold season.

The only hitch, for us at least, is the space winter growing requires.  To continue harvesting in the same quantity as we do for the rest of the year, we need to have winter vegetables in a lot more ground than we need for that amount in warmer months.  Since things aren’t growing at all for a good twelve weeks of that time and growing slowly for the rest of it, we have to plan differently.  With much of our usable growing space wet (albeit highly fertile) from December through May, we still haven’t been able to grow as much as we would like.

This year we were really excited to use the dry acreage we are leasing near town to grow more for winter, but are now equally disappointed because those vegetables attracted foraging deer who ended up eating everything we planted there–kales, radicchios, chicories, red mustards, chard, perpetual spinach, turnips.  They kindly left the arugula and green mustards, but being so far away from that space, it felt hard to protect those crops and we aren’t necessarily keen on putting up deer fencing over there right now.  Here at our place, even when we see some deer activity in the winter, we have the easy protection of our dog to keep them at bay.

And so, the winter growing part of our operation is still the part we still struggle with.  Many people are amazed that we have what we do at market but we know that we could have a lot more.  And people really, really love our winter greens.  Growing them out of doors in the cold produces the most wonderful flavor, and to be eating something so fresh and alive in the coldest months is awesome, we aren’t coming close to meeting the demand for them.  Even as we get ready to put up our first hoophouses on the farm, we don’t want that to be our main solution to having more to harvest for the winter market and ultimately, for a full season CSA too.

A puzzle we are working on–just as there are always are in the farming business–but one we feel we can solve.  That is part of what keeps us on our toes and ever humble in the work we do.

This morning, the sky was on fire, Mt. Hood so breathtaking in the sky against those colors.  It will be a beautiful market day.  We are heading out now with some delicious greens, thankful for what we do have and for yet another Saturday to visit with the community and continue “farming” year round.

Worth the wait

This is actually a photo from last week’s CSA harvest, but this week’s harvest is much the same, with some blushed leaf lettuce, lacinato kale, and the sweetest, most beautiful green onions as well.  The weather this last week, too, has been much the same–cloudy, cool, and wet.  But there was last Saturday, a bright, warm day where the sun more than said hello.  And this weekend looks to be even warmer.  In fact, right now, the whole of the extended forecast has a sunny image to accompany it, even though the temperatures will stay a little below average.  We are so ready for sun!

In the meantime, many things are gestating quite well.  We have beautiful cabbages, broccolis, and kohlrabis that have thrived this spring.  And some of the crops we have covered with recycled plastic this year are growing faster than our “normal”.  We have buds forming on our summer squash already!  We are doing constant battle with the bugs.  We have so many more slugs this spring; they love the cool, wet weather.  We have lost a lot of unharvestable lettuce and kale, and they continue to eat a small percentage of each cucumber planting we make.  The farmer has taken to placing an exorbitant amount of seeds out, and they get most of them.  But we just keep replanting these and other crops, like the beans whose earlier plantings have been so stunted by the wet conditions.  Still, even one really sunny day like last Saturday blesses us with a bit of green returning to the yellowed bean leaves and we find dead slugs all over the paths as they try to find a retreat from the heat.  Its a balance for sure, everything, between the positive and negative.

One of the biggest positives for us is that our fruit trees are loving all this water.  We will have to irrigate our newest plantings so much less this first year and they will be so far ahead next year because of this great start.  And our newest little human sprout is doing well too, almost 2/3’s of the way grown with a very comfortable mama.  Even though I prefer the sun on my skin, I can’t help but feel grateful not to be hot…yet.  Soon enough, all the flowers will be blooming and we will all be back outside all the time, with our summer vegetables and our picnics and barbecues.  When we returned home from The Market last Saturday, the sun had opened some of our cheery, summer flowers, the poor buds of which have just been sitting there, waiting.  All of our waiting is almost over, and small surprises and delights, just around the corner.

Spring love matures (and so do the weeds)

As much as I knew it would come, being here at the end of the giddy stage of spring, when our farm (where landscaping has taken a second seat to things growing for the business) abruptly turns green after that splash of color, is still something like walking on uneven ground, that bumpy step a little jolting. Everywhere I look it is green, the green of grasses, mostly, and other weeds loving the warming up of the weather just as much as the rest of us. The fruit trees are done blooming, the spring bulbs and flowering trees too, even the early weeds have already blossomed and set seed (shudder). Thankfully we are able to leave the beautiful white and pink blooms of our winter arugula and black spanish radsishes along with the unmistakable yellow flowers of the mustards and turnips for a bit longer…the bees and my eyes need something colorful to feast on. But these blossoms too, begin to feel like weeds as they get in the way of working around new growing things.

As ambitious as early spring is with its newfound energy, the rising from winter’s slumber and slow going, the inevitable next step comes and its reality is not as flippant and full on as the sowing of a new year’s seeds. The season gets warmer, and the watering and weeding begin. That is what we did this weekend,; recovered beets and kohlrabi and carrots from the mat of other growth thinking it had found a nice place to grow too, freed some broccoli from the start of a dangerous relationship with the nasty bindweed, gave our bunching onions access to more light, and started on getting the grass out of the fava beans although their growth is vigorous enough to withstand sharing–we just don’t want the slugs having ladders to the pods which are now setting.

And this kind of work is more sobering than planting even when the sense of accomplishment is almost more fulfilling when you finish. Now our early spring love affair with a new season is tempered by what time brings. Just like any love affair, your vision at first is beautifully rose colored. Now that the first flush of petals have fallen, some of those irksome growing challenges are up for evaluation. There are still spots in the field where the difference in soil quality is fairly dramatic. There are still some broccolis buttoning (producing a small head before the plant matures because of stress from soil or heat?), still poor germination on our first planting of carrots, still flea beetles on the pac chois, and spotted cucumber beetles on the chard. Things are not picture perfect, for sure.

Still, the upshot is that we are seeing all of these things on a much smaller scale than ever before, and we can see that at least from the pest perspective, the plants are stronger than the damage they can do this year. Soon they will have outgrown the worst of it. Carrots are in the queue for succession plantings into July, and in truth the germination percentage on that first planting is close to 50% where we had 0% on our first planting last year (I suppose we are just pushing the envelope for carrots with that first planting anyways). We way, way, way overplanted broccolis because they are so fickle anyways. And at least after the main growing season comes to a close, we can clear this space and really work with it for soil improvement since we have a separate space for fall/winter plantings. That will make a world of difference.

So the season matures, we settle into its routines. We have the bulk of our spring planting done (which is why we took the last few days to weed, weed, weed). Most of the tomatoes, the eggplant, some more corn, and more basil…that is what is left besides things that are continually planted in succession. We won’t have another big planting push until July, so weeding and watering do become our main occupations, along with the all important harvesting! And even though all the early spring colors have turned to blankets of green over here, when we weeded the raspberries yesterday, our first year’s planting was vibrating with a steady bzzzzz! Many of those early flowers are working there way towards summer fruit, a feast of colors for the plate. And we planted all those annual flowers, a quick fix for more lavish blooms for us and cut flowers for all of you. And even the humble vegetable blooms that proceed the harvest are beautiful in their own right. It may be green right now, but just around the corner will be summer’s color show, one that holds steady and true into winter even though it doesn’t take our breath away quite like the first of spring.