CSA News

Strawberry Soul

I remember it was four years ago in April when I got them in.  Along with the 500 strawberry plants I also got 12 grape vines and 15 or so raspberry brambles.  Everything about me was green except my thumb.  I had apprenticed the previous two years at Seeds of Hope under Gabriel who had left in the Fall to “get his cabin built before winter.”  A little known story is that I wasn’t actually hired for the job after Gabriel left.  Another farmer, Eric, who had much more experience was hired and I started working in the food pantry at the office.  I wasn’t ready anyway, and I wasn’t the only one who knew that.  Around late January Eric was on his way out and I was on my way in.  He was heading to another local farm – the Founding Director of which just so happened to be my housemate – and Seeds of Hope kind of fell into my lap.  In fact I was no better than third in line for the position after I interviewed, but I’ll save that story; suffice to say fortune was in my favor.

It was one of those Missouri Aprils where the spring pastels were drowned out by endless grey and wet.  Even the gigantic forsythia across the road seemed a bit drab, subdued even; the typical golden, effervescent flowers had nothing from above to radiate back so there it sat flat for weeks waiting like me for any little bubble of hope.  The fading and falling purple and white flowers of the tulip trees gave way to the red buds and violets as it goes but it all seemed as if nature was nonchalant, indifferent – to human aesthetic appeal, anyway.

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The neighbor’s huge forsythia on a cloudy day

Sometime in early April I was sitting in my new office, silently panicking, wondering why in the heck I was hired to manage a farm when I knew nothing about farming.  I had never even been on a farm before May, and those who know anything about it know the season begins in January, generally speaking, though really it never ends.  Anyways, there I was twiddling my thumbs on another rainy day when I noticed Eric had left a sticky note on the file cabinet.  It was for IndianaBerry.com and it was a login and password.  I realized – right about then, I guess – that Eric before he left had told me he ordered some plants that would arrive in April.  I logged in and saw that I had those five hundred plus plants coming in on Friday of that week.  The ground was soggy and there was nothing but rain in the forecast so I called and asked them to push back the delivery date, which they couldn’t do because they’d already been shipped.

I had about a week to get the dormant plants in, or so I recall from the instructions they mailed with the plants, so long as I kept the roots moist.  There was a section along the western edge of the main field near the neighbor’s red bud tree that I had tilled prior the farm becoming a slop.  I was able to get two north and south beds planted with two hundred or so plants.  It was way too muddy to plant or do anything really and it took lord knows how long, but there wasn’t a choice that day.  Mud was sticking everywhere, a trowel was useless and I was miserable out in the cold and rain on my hands and knees for hours – I guess nature was breaking me in.  After planting those two beds I snuck some more plants into a nearby section that runs east/west, two or three shorter 30 foot beds that had just had their first crop harvested the previous fall; they were carrots, I remember.  Anyways I somehow got about 350 of the plants in and the rest I sent down to another farm site we had in Bel-Ridge for planting there.  The grape and raspberry cuttings went in that week as well, but that’s a tale for a different day.

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Strawberry Corner

This is our third year of harvest.  It’s hard work.  Every other day at 6 AM crawling around on your hands and knees for a few hours, in the wet grass, with the mosquitoes pricking your face and the buffalo gnats flying kamikaze missions up your nostrils and into your eyeballs for some unknowable reason.  Searching around in a sea of perky, saw-toothed leaves for the little red ruby’s that are just right, plucking them off one by one, careful not to bruise or slip a fingernail into it, and putting it gently into the pint container.  Years ago when I picked strawberries as an apprentice I found it monotonous.  But it isn’t.  To do it well on this scale takes focus, dexterity, body control, honed muscles, flexibility, keen eyesight, experience and a fair bit of determination – especially when the gnats start gnawing on you.

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Monday morning’s harvest

The planting was more of a controlled crash landing than anything and I’ve read and been told of all the ways you’re supposed to care for your berry plants.  You’re supposed to mulch them; you’re supposed to mow them; you’re supposed to thin them; you’re supposed to fertilize them – but I haven’t done any of that.  I’ve just watched them grow.  The beds have changed shape,  grown together, conquered new ground in some areas, lost some ground in others.  Dock weed pokes up here and there, it’s large seedhead towers ominous above the short strawberry plants, threatening to really disrupt the operation if those potent seeds take hold.  Poison ivy and violets are creeping in on one section, and a small grove of goldenrod somehow snuck in and got established.  It’s already four feet tall.  Nature, having quite the sense of humor, teasingly (I assume) planted false strawberries all around the patch, too.  But still every April as that watchful red bud sheds her magenta hue the berry plants spring back to life and open their little white flowers to us:  the select, lucky few in this world who know the best berries to be found are tucked back in that little nook.

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False strawberry, or Mockberry, in the patch

Over the past three years we’ve have good strawberry crops.  Number-wise I have no idea if this is true, I don’t have anything to compare it to, but we’ve had plenty of berries for what we need.  But they’ve surely got to be the tastiest strawberries this side of the river.  I’m convinced of that.  And that’s what counts right?  Havin’ just enough of a good thing?  Seems like I’ve done everything wrong with these plants, or just mostly done nothin’ at all.  Maybe that’s the secret?  Maybe a little less farmin’ and a little more watchin’ is the way to go about things.  In some ways I feel like that strawberry patch.  I wasn’t ready to go into that field either, but I did.  It was someone else who like me was in a pinch and said a prayer and grabbed me and threw me in the ground.  It was a surprise; there was no plan.  I’m thankful for it.  So are those plants.  That place sure has changed me, too.  I have a little footprint there among the oaks, and that little garden is stitched into my soul.

Rain Gauge

rain gauge early june

When did this happen?  Wednesday night I guess.  We’ve been hot, humid and dry all week but I heard some thunder Wednesday night.  Ground looked wet in spots but it didn’t feel at all like an inch of rain.  Guess I need to break a few more bones so my aches’ll tell me when the rains comin’.  Weatherman said a hurricane is blowin’ through Monday night so we’ll have to make sure everything is tied down real good.

What I’m Eating

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Strawberry Lemon Kombucha, what else?  My friend and I recently began brewing kombucha thanks to some help from a friend of the farm.  It’s been a great experience and very easy and inexpensive to get started.  If you’re interested I’d really encourage you to start brewing it, especially now as I find it wholly refreshing on hot days.  There’s tons of information online and I’m a beginner myself, but I’d say just pick the method that seems easiest to you and go with it.

CSA News

Farm Update

Hello everybody, I hope you all are doing well.  I’m terrible sorry I missed the newsletter last week.  My work computer as well as my wallet and other personal things were stolen Wednesday night.  I’ve spent the last several days trying to sort my personal life out as well as keep the farm going.  The field is looking pretty good, though it would be nice if we could dry out some.  I have lots of plants that have been waiting to go in for a few weeks now.  Hopefully this weekend I’ll have a chance to get them in.

The strawberries are starting to ripen; I picked some pints this morning.  Probably will only be a small amount in shares this week but I’m hoping to get a few solid weeks again this year.  Spring shares are a tad lighter since the growing season is still getting going but lots more variety this week and moving forward.

I’ll make sure to get a newsletter out this week (in time).  If you have any questions please contact rtempel@caastlc.org.  Randy is back full time now and will be handling the CSA pickup queries.

Items in Last Weeks Share:

Lettuce Mix/Salad Mix

Kale

Red Pac Choi

Mustard Greens

Turnips

Radishes

Cilantro

Scallions

CSA News

Under Cover

I’ve been thinking I’d like to brush the dust off this old blog and start to make some more use out of it.  Other than posting the weekly newsletter and visiting with the members who pick up at the farm, I don’t get to communicate with our subscribers or other people in general about the goings on of the farm.  This will also give my family and friends an opportunity to see what I’m up to.  My goal here is to give more anecdotal, slice-of-life stories and happenings up at Seeds of Hope so you can get a sense of what life is like as a (sub)urban farmer.  Of course it wouldn’t be a farming blog without filling you in on what I’m eating, after all it IS eating season, right?  I’m planning to update regularly but I have no idea what regularly means, so we’ll just see how it goes.  Hope you enjoy.

After a few sunup to sundown days I had gotten the first planting of the warm season plants in:  tomatoes, cucurbits, peppers, and some late-June bok choy’s, lettuces and napa cabbages; and managed to get the weekly harvest in.  I think I’m the last farmer in the Midwest to plant my tomatoes every year but with a frost advisory the second week of May I finally wasn’t the nervous one.  On Tuesday morning I was wearing an extra layer under my pants and a jacket while I was planting four beds of summer squash, zucchini, and cucumbers carefully into the woven, black landscape fabric I use as a mulch.  The planting didn’t take more than an hour, but the prepwork and post-planting regime took considerably more time.  The beds were worked the previous day and I had laid out the new landscape fabric and stapled it in place with 8 inch sod staples every three steps or so for ninety feet – the length of my beds.  Under the fabric I had ran a line of drip tape for irrigation off a fifty pound spool I’ve been lugging around from bed to bed.  I form a makeshift toilet paper dispenser of sorts so I can easily take the end of the tape and run it down to the end of the bed and tie it off.

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Drip Tape Dispenser

Just after dawn I marked off my holes with green spray paint every three feet on the new fabric and lit the blow torch to get the end hot.  It’s a simple device that I also use as a flame weeder.  I let the flame blow for a few minutes to get the end hot then shut off the gas valve.  Picking up the propane tank I hustle up the bed burning holes where the spray painted circles are and where the plants will be, careful to avoid the drip tape which I can’t see and hopefully pushed far enough to the side so I don’t burn it too.  Every twenty or so holes I have to stop and relight the torch because as I press the hot metal onto the fabric to burn a hole, the end of the torch sinks a little into the loose soil causing it to cool down, so the faster I move the more holes I can burn before I have to relight it.  The purpose is to burn a big enough hole to get the plant in the soil underneath, while the rest of the solid fabric keeps weeds from growing and regulates moisture in the soil.

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Cucumbers and Squashes

Anyway, the plants were in and the row cover was on, and here we are two days later on Thursday afternoon just after lunch.  We had a few brief showers that morning but now the sun had come out and we were up to just over 80 degrees and humid.  I was walking out to the caterpillar tunnel to ready a bed for cherry tomatoes which I was hoping to get in a few days ago but didn’t have enough light.  On a whim I decided to peak under the row cover at the cucumbers since I had noticed a few aphids on the underside leaves when I was transplanting.  As soon as I lifted up the row cover heat poured out on my face and I saw those baby plants laying down struggling for life; my plans for the day changed.  All the cucurbits, better known as squashes, were completely dehydrated, laying wilted on the hot, black fabric.  All of the water from their cell walls had been rushed to their roots to maintain vital functions in a last ditch effort to stay alive.  I couldn’t believe it.  They had been watered in two days ago and it showered on and off all morning.  I love growing with row cover, the benefits are many, but you can’t see your plants and you’ve got to remember that.  I scurried down the beds ripping up the staples and throwing off the row cover in a fit of  managed panic – a familiar feeling – and carefully laid the fabric between the beds so as not to damage the tender, flaccid plants.  Right now I keep my hydrant off if I’m not using it because of a leaky manifold (‘nother story) so I ran to it and pulled the handle up.  The manifold which I run three hoses from luckily sits right near the squash beds and I just so happened to have a 100 foot hose equipped with a watering wand on it, so I grabbed it up and started carefully watering the dying plants thinking up contingency plans if I lost the crop.  The plants were four weeks old; so, squash, zuchinni and cucumbers four weeks late at best if I started more today.  I’d need to figure out how to fill that gap in my CSA boxes in five or six weeks when I would start harvesting, and I’d have to make a decision quickly.

 

About halfway through watering a lovely woman and her daughter walked over and inquired about the farm.  I tried real hard for a second or two to explain our program and what we do but ended up motioning emphatically to my dying plants I had just planted two days earlier.  She understood and they took off to another section of the farm while I finished up watering.  About fifty feet away a shaky plastic shed that’s fallen down three times houses several large pieces of woven shade cloth – and no telling what else.  I’m not sure how many pieces of it I’ve got, four or five, or what lengths or widths they are, but I know about how much bed space I can cover with them, somehow, so I grabbed one and kind of bear hugged it and started dragging it to the beds, trying to figure out how wide it was.  I got it on and it covered all four beds for about 60 feet, so I tightly sandbagged the ends to keep the slack from laying on the plants and ran around picking up sandbags weighing other things down. I ran them to the squash beds three or four at a time and placed one at each wire hoop to keep the side of the cloth from blowing on the plants (the wire hoops are placed every ten feet or so and form a skeleton which supports the row cover or shade cloth).  By then the woman and her daughter had made it back around to me and I saw a big, thick cloud start to cover the sun – this would give the plants I hadn’t covered yet a enough of a break while I spoke with the woman and her daughter, which I did, then I hurried and covered the rest of the plants.  I kept a close eye on those little guys through the cloth and over the next few hours they started standing back up and I felt a little more confident.

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That dang shed

Another twenty minutes and those plants probably would have been dead.  I’da gone to check on them the next morning (maybe) and they’da been all shriveled up and yellow and I woulda wondered what the heck happened.  But they weren’t dead – just close – and I wasn’t even headed over there to check on ‘em.  Just got lucky I suppose.  Funny thing about it is I got the shade cloth on about 2 o’clock knowing the whole time I was going have to take it off again (and put the row cover back on) before I left around dusk because we were expecting storms and I was afraid the wind would blow the cloth off all over the plants and cause a lot of damage.  And if I left the row cover off during the storms the wind would batter the plants since they were young and in pretty bad shape.

What was all that, then – diligence or luck?  Sometimes I can’t tell.  Sometimes you have to build a wall all day just to tear it down before night sets in– such is life.

 

Rain Gauge

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Just a hair under 3 inches from 2 PM Saturday to 2 PM Sunday

 

What I’m Eating

My work is very physical right now to say the least, so I’m adding a lot of eggs to my diet for energy and muscle repair.  I’m a passionate localvore so I always seek out eggs from farms I’m familiar with.  Anyways, this past week I’ve been eating  spaghetti with garbanzo bean sauce.  It sounds fancier than it is.  It isn’t life-changing but it’s very hearty and tastes better after it’s been in the fridge; good qualities for long days.  I very loosely followed this recipe.  To the noodles and sauce I added ground pork sausage which was browned with onions and garlic, sunflower seeds, arugula, and of course a couple of fried eggs with scallions.  Mushrooms would have been nice too if I could just remember to buy them.   A nice spring mix is obligatory, of course.  Til next time.

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CSA News

Farm Update

Hello everybody, thanks for visiting our site.  As we all know we’re living in unprecedented times.  Things have changed for everybody and every organization on the planet and CAASTLC and Seeds of Hope are no different.  Fortunately, we are still offering our CSA program and are currently full.  We do from time to time have spots open up during the season, so if you’re still interested in signing up the best way to do this is go ahead and fill out the application (located a few posts below) and you will be placed on a waiting list.  Our organization is working with reduced staffing at the moment so we do appreciate your patience.  We’ve had to reorganize on the fly, people have had to learn new jobs, and we have a lot of work to do still.  Unfortunately we are currently unable to have volunteers at the farm currently.  This also means our volunteer-for-a-share program is on hold until further notice.  I hope to provide more clarity regarding this very soon as I know this is a popular thing we do, but I can’t comment any further right now.  We are also unable to accept EBT at the moment.  We are trying to resolve this issue because it’s highly important to us and integral to the program, but things are generally taking more time to do as all organizations including governments are scrambling a bit to deal with staffing issues, uncertainty, and often a vast increase in demands for services.  We will update you as soon as we know more on this front.

The plants, sun, and weather, however haven’t taken a break!  Our field is looking very good and with warm weather on the way the plants are going to start jumping rapidly.  Our full CSA season will start on May 21.  Emails have been sent to our subscribers regarding our pickup process at both farm sites.  We will send another email early next week confirming the process again to the full CSA subscriborship.  As of right now we are still asking that if you are picking up at the office in Overland that you call Brenden at 314-475-0553 to schedule a 30 minute pickup window on Thursdays from 1-6, though we would prefer our customers pick up by 5 if at all possible.  If you have any issues regarding your pickup please email Jake at jsmith@caastlc.org and we will figure something out.  Pickup at the farm will be similar to how it’s been in the past, though it will be contactless so just give me a honk when you arrive so I can throw my hoe down and grab your veggies from the cooler.  Just pop your trunk and I’ll run them out to you.

Thank you very much for your patience during this trying time.  We’ve been very busy juggling running the farm and handling our distribution and communication systems and have had a few lapses and been a bit late on our updates.  Rest assured we’re working the kinks out of our procedures while still keeping an eye on the plants.  That’s all for now.  I’ll be writing a facebook post with pictures on a walk around the farm I did this morning so be sure to check that out.  If I have time I will try to cross post on this site.  Take care.

Farmer Jake