Week of August 8, Distribution #10

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Arugula
  • Yellow wax beans (from our farm) or green beans (from Markristo Farm)
  • Dill
  • Basil
  • Assorted tomatoes
  • Zephyr yellow squash 
  • Cucumbers
  • Assorted peppers
  • Eggplant

Your fruit share will be red plums from Yonder Farm.

The harvest team has just brought in the “Spanish” onions – the large, mild types. The variety you’ll get next week – one of three – is called Elyse, and it’s from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We’ll start harvesting potatoes this week, and the variety Dark Red Norland should come to you next week, too.

What’s new on the farm?

Shallots are a favorite crop of ours, but that wasn’t always the case. The crops we would produce were often tiny, poor yielding, torpedo-shaped bulbs, and unsatisfying to grow. But then long-time employee Daren Carroll introduced us to a Fedco Seeds variety called Ed’s Red, a large open-pollinated shallot produced by Idaho farmer Beth Rasgorshek, and we’ve been hooked ever since.

It wasn’t long ago that all shallots were grown from sets, or small starter bulbs, that would typically be planted in the fall. Seeds were unheard of until recently. We harvested the last of our shallot seeds about two weeks ago, and they are now dry and ready for processing. Many of the seeds we buy come from small scale seed savers, but seed saving is a new activity for us. We were inspired to save our own seeds because the variety that performed so well on our farm was open pollinated, giving us the opportunity to do so, and we wanted an opportunity to adapt it to the conditions we find here on our farm. Moreover, seeds have become very expensive, with inflation in that category running from 15 to 20% for years, and we thought seed saving might save us some money.

We selected about 100 mature shallot bulbs from our 2021 crop with the characteristics we liked best: still firm and blemish-free after months in the cooler, beautifully colored and large. We set the bulbs into large, compost filled peat pots in March and then did little more than water them until July. Shallots produce a lovely umbel-shaped white blossom, consisting of about 150 individual flowers. Because each flower produces six seeds, the yield is about 900 seeds per bulb, giving us far more seeds than we can use. Perhaps we’ll go to Seed Savers Exchange and swap some for another promising variety.

Last year, we also added a new wrinkle to how we plant shallots in the field. We’d been planting red and yellow onions in the fall for several years with generally good results, so we thought we’d try growing shallots in the same way. The representative for Bejo Seeds, a Dutch company, is an old college friend of mine, so I asked him what he thought about the fall planting of shallots. He thought it was a ridiculous idea, which I found discouraging. But then I remembered that he was an entomology major, and I tried it anyway. It’s important to think for oneself, admonished Wendell Berry, who asked who was using the farmers’ head. Is it the agrichemical industry? Seed companies? The chain that buys your crop? Or is it you thinking for yourself, perhaps with some input from fellow farmers and university researchers?

We seeded the shallots in August, grew them in our greenhouse for sixty days or so, and then planted them out in the early fall. The first-year result is promising. Despite the snowless winter and droughty spring, bulb size, color and quality were all good, and they were ready to harvest a month ahead of the spring-planted crop. We’ll continue to spring-sow a portion of our crop, but we’re pleased to add this new technique to our repertoire. These are the small things that continue to excite this farmer about his craft. Besides, it was fun to prove my old college mate wrong.

All the best, Ted

Week of August 1, Distribution #9

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Genovese basil
  • Fennel
  • Eggplant
  • Assorted tomatoes
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • Yellow onions
  • Sweet peppers 
  • Sweet corn

Your fruit share will be blueberries.

Rain on both Monday and Thursday of last week was very helpful, and water levels in both irrigation ponds rose appreciably. Nevertheless, after next week, we’ll be entering a lean stretch at least where greens are concerned. It is a legacy of the extremely dry June and July but bolting because of the heat and flea beetles have also taken their toll. Next week, you’ll get arugula and possibly red leaf lettuce. After that there will be a period of a couple of weeks without any greens save for cabbage. Plantings of spinach, kale, Swiss chard, lettuce and arugula are coming along, but there will be a gap.

While I am sharing sad news: We’ve decided that we aren’t going to host an open house on the farm this year. The drought and on-going pandemic have left us a little worn out. It takes a team to put together the kind of event we’ve held in the past, and not everyone on the team is up for it. If, however, you are in the neighborhood and would like to stop in for a brief visit, we would love to see you.

What’s new on the farm?

The Medinas have just wrapped up today’s tomato harvest, and the consensus is that we are at peak tomato. You can see them at work on our Instagram page. Nate and Jan and Kordehlia are now at work sorting and bagging. Five new large-fruited varieties stand out for us. The large yellow tomato with the starburst of orange on the blossom end is Ginfizz. It has turned out to be a prodigious producer. The tallest vines are 7-8’ high and they are loaded with fruits in every stage of maturation.

The pink tomato varieties, Enroza and Abigail, are also producers. Abigail, the larger of the two, was bred at Johnny’s Selected Seeds by Emily Rose Haga, and occupies a new category in tomato breeding, with a primary emphasis on flavor. Abigail is an F1 hybrid, but it has heirloom parentage. It’s also early, high yielding and resistant to late blight, qualities that I value as a farmer and that aren’t normally associated with heirlooms.

Cherokee Purple, a true heirloom, has been our go-to “purple” variety for years, but this year it has received reinforcements from Marnoaur, a deeply lobed variety, and Cuba Libre, which is somewhat heart shaped. High Mowing Seeds calls these “hylooms,” for the heirloom qualities they are trying to achieve in F1 hybrids. I’m curious to know if you agree that these five are keepers.

I’ll point out three other varieties, not because they are new, but because they appear frequently in your shares: Lucky Tiger is the small green torpedo shaped tomato said to be the best tasting variety from Johnny’s “Artisanal” series. Clementine (orange) and Mountain Magic (red) are a pair of “cocktail” tomatoes – both are round and about the size of ping pong balls, almost too large to pop whole into your mouth, but not if you are a true tomato lover.

This week, you’ll get another big bag of tomatoes – I hope you enjoy them.

Best wishes, Ted

PS. If you are looking to supplement your share with meat, dairy, pantry staples, and other regional food items, our neighbors at Lewis Waite Farm have a lot to offer. You can find more information about them below.

Lewis Waite Farm is both a working grass fed beef and pork farm and an area food hub for over 60 small farmers and food makers. You can keep your food dollars supporting small farms while finding wonderful items to complement the delicious vegetables in your Windflower shares. From meats to cheeses to pantry staples like fruit vinegars or flour, their wide ranging offerings all support NY and VT small farms and food makers. Pick up orders right at CSA distribution on a pre-set schedule, or have food shipped UPS whenever you want. Watch your emails from the Lewis Waite Farmer Network for your ordering window and upcoming deliveries. For more information please see Lewis Waite Farmer Network (localfoodmarketplace.com). Thank you!

Week of July 25, Distribution #8

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Arugula or chard
  • Basil
  • Tomatoes
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Choy
  • Cucumbers
  • Squashes
  • Yellow onions
  • Eggplants 

Your fruit share will be stone fruit from Yonder Farm. When I mentioned our collaboration with Denison Farm last week, I failed to mention our long-time collaboration with Markristo Farm as another means of mitigating risk. They have grown organic green beans and edamame for us for many years. Their crops are just beginning to mature.

What’s new on the farm?

Thursday. The big storm that was coming when I last wrote brought, to our disappointment, just under 2/10 of an inch of rain last week. But it did rain today. It was the smallest blip on the map. A little dark orange against green on the Doppler, and we expected it to blow right past us, except that it didn’t. It dropped almost exactly an inch of rain, and along with it a new sense of possibility. The rain added nothing to our ponds: every drop soaked into the parched earth. We were all in the field when it came, and we were overjoyed to be soaked through by the refreshing rainfall. Once inside and dry, I laid down to rest and fell deeply asleep, at ease in the knowledge that the entire farm got exactly what it was in desperate need to get.  

Sunday. I’ve come in briefly after an irrigation change. It’s 11:45 and the temperature is 88 degrees. We have been told to expect 93 today. I can’t wait. I’m in shorts and a straw hat; the Medinas are in long sleeves and hoodies. I enjoy the evaporative cooling, but I can’t help but feel I’m missing out on something that people in hot places everywhere have figured out. The greens harvest – arugula, lettuce and choy – was wrapped up early this morning, the tomato harvest is nearly complete, and a first harvest of peppers and eggplants is about to get underway.  Later, as we do every day, we’ll buzz through the cukes and zukes. And then it’s off to the last block of garlic. If you are a farmer, there’s nothing like a little rainfall to put some bounce in your step. But it is 94 degrees now, and with the humidity it feels like 99. It’s 3:30 and I’m done for the day. I come in and crack open a beer.  

Monday. I have had to toss out the rest of the note to you in which I continued to complain about the weather. It rained again last night, and it is raining still – we are coming on our second inch, and it seems as though there is more to come. I bet that the ponds are being recharged. I know that I am.

I am happy to turn my attention to farm tasks beyond irrigation. There is a good deal to be done on the farm this week. The harvest list of crops we’ll take into storage includes beets, fennel, yellow onions and red and green cabbage. The hand weeding list: collards, fall cabbage, Delicata squash and ginger. The tractor cultivation list: leeks and corn with the Checchi, arugula with the Kress Duos and fall Brassicas with the Steketee setup. The greenhouse seeding list: lettuce, tatsoi, zucchini, cucumber, and fall kohlrabi. The field seeding list: arugula, radishes, fall beets, fall carrots and salad greens, all with the Sutton Spider, and flat beans with the Cole Multi.

Have a great week, Ted

Week of July 18, Distribution #7

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Green leaf lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Squashes
  • Tomatoes
  • Radishes
  • Beets
  • Red onions
  • Garlic scapes
  • Your fruit share will be one quart of peaches. 

During the winter, we arranged with a friend who farms some bottom land along the Tomhannock Creek to grow carrots for us in exchange for the onions and shallots we would grow for him. His is the better farm during dry years, and so it was a hedge against risk. His carrots will be making their way into your shares soon. Our bell peppers and new red potatoes and an arugula planting will also be coming along shortly.

What’s new on the farm

“We’re all Californians now,” said Pete, the fruit farmer we work most closely with. His neighbors have been complaining because he has drawn his irrigation pond so low that it has begun to stink. That can’t be pleasant, but what’s a farmer to do?

Our ponds are empty now, too. Which is to say that we’ve taken them down as low as we are willing to go. It’s necessary to leave some for the wildlife that has come to depend on them. I am curious about the Great Blue heron that travels from pond to pond in our neighborhood. I wonder how the hunting compares to last year when water levels were high. They are an adaptable species. During a particularly wet season a few years ago, a heron would regularly hunt frogs in our flooded back lawn.

Nate and I took a day off yesterday and headed up to Lake Champlain, where we keep an old sailboat. It is a deep lake, and a dip in the water was cold and refreshing. Along the way, the corn crops we saw were spikey and dry, and the soybeans were stunted and wilting. We are not alone in this: much of northern New England is in a severe drought.      

We had 12 inches of rain last July. We have not had our first inch so far this July. The weather map shows a storm the size of the state of New York headed our way. But we are on its very southern edge and its trajectory does not look promising. It is sprinkling now, and I am trying to be positive. This is when we find out just how superstitious we might be. We don’t want to say or think anything that would jinx our chances. Hiliberto says “it is what it is,” which I find hard to argue with but not especially satisfying.

Fear not – vegetable production at Windflower Farm will not grind to a halt. The new pump in the Hill Field well is working well, and last week’s delivery of thousands of feet of new line is redistributing the water from our primary well to those corners of the farm that were previously served by our ponds. We’ll get through this, and we’ll be better prepared for the next dry spell.

Have a great week, Ted

Week of July 11, Distribution #6

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Tomatoes
  • Greenleaf lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • ‘Caraflex’ (pointy green) or ‘Tendersweet’ (round green) cabbage
  • Assorted squashes
  • Cucumbers
  • Japanese turnips
  • Garlic scapes 
  • Yellow onions

Beets and spinach and red onions will come next week. Peppers should be coming soon. Your fruit share will consist of fresh blueberries from Yonder Farm. 

What’s new on the farm

I’ve just weeded our first four beds of eggplants out of a total of eight. They were not especially weedy, but I wanted to deal with the situation before things got out of hand. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll weed the other four tomorrow. But weeding can be tough on the lower back, and tomorrow may come a little too soon. The eggplants comprise a quarter acre of garden in total. They are all on drip irrigation and poly mulch and make for a tidy planting. There are perhaps half a dozen varieties in all, including the Pingtung Long that I weeded today and another slender Asian type, two or three bell-shaped Italian varieties and a couple of stripped and neon novelties. They are just beginning to fruit, and it will be a few weeks before they are in shares. The weed species were the usual suspects: pigweed, lambsquarters, Galinsoga, barnyard grass, lady’s thumb and purslane.

As I weeded and listened to the irrigation water gurgle under the mulch, I witnessed one of life’s small dramas unfold in the eggplant canopy. The lambsquarters were loaded with aphids, and the eggplants (and many weeds) were loaded with ladybugs (or ladybird beetles to be more precise). The progeny of a ladybug is often called an aphid lion (lacewing larvae also go by that name), and this is where things became dramatic: the aphid lions were in hot pursuit of their prey – the aphids on the lambsquarters. Interestingly, I couldn’t find any aphids on our eggplants. When I think about it, we almost never have aphid problems on our vegetables, and I think it’s because of a healthy resident population of ladybugs and lacewings, which appear to be our farm’s insect invasion quick response team. Oddly, the adult ladybugs play no direct role in this deadly game – they are bystanders who watch as their offspring pounce on their prey.

We have been irrigating around the clock, which has kept our vegetables in good shape, but has also exhausted our water resources. I called a well driller last Thursday, and today, Sunday, he installed a new pump at the bottom of a new well, some 360’ below grade. Tomorrow, we’ll be pumping even more water. This has been our driest spring and early summer ever, and our ponds have become dangerously close to empty. We’ve been close before, but never this close. This newest well should take care of four to six acres of vegetables and should take the edge off. One indication of how dry it has become is that the lawn has died back. Any green that can be found now is not grass but dandelion, lance leaf plantain, yarrow, white clover and mallow, all tap rooted plants that can mine the deeper reaches of the soil profile. Another indicator is the state of our two irrigation ponds – which are discouragingly low. All the ponds’ inhabitants have become concentrated in what little space remains watery. Predator and prey species are now uncomfortably close. Water striders are living cheek by jowl with pond frogs, their beady compound eyes intensely focused on those dangerously long frog tongues.

Have a great week, Ted