The News from Windflower Farm
What’s in your share?
- Yellow wax beans (from our farm) or green beans (from Markristo Farm)
- Assorted tomatoes
- Zephyr yellow squash
- Assorted peppers
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