Week of October 3, Distribution #18

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Lettuce
  • Eggplant
  • Yellow onions
  • Rosemary
  • Our last tomatoes
  • Chiles
  • Acorn squash
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli

Your fruit share will be Empire apples and Bosc pears from Yonder Farm.

What’s new on the farm?

The first hard frost of the season is expected here in the wee hours on Monday morning, and the entire farm team spent a couple of hours setting floating row covers over the top of frost-sensitive crops. We covered arugula, lettuce, kale, spinach and radishes. And we harvested the last of the tomatoes, eggplants and summer squashes against the likelihood that they wouldn’t survive the cold. All that remains in the field is the hardy stock: potatoes, still in their hills, sweet potatoes, snug under their vines, broccoli, leeks, turnips and kohlrabi. The consensus among the produce growers in my circle is that global warming is most apparent in the fall, when the season remains relatively mild for perhaps two weeks longer than when we first started farming, but that it is still important to watch out for those stray early frosts.

Windflower Farm is 150 miles due north of Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights. I know this because I had to explain to a State Trooper why I was exempt from the kind of recordkeeping he was asking for on my way home last week. What regularly surprises me each Tuesday when I drive the delivery truck is how much warmer it is in NYC than here. The water surrounding the city has a moderating effect that explains much of the difference. All the concrete and a few degrees of latitude must also help. I imagine how much longer my season would be if I could relocate my farm to the open fields of Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. We may be just 3 ½ hours by car from you, but we are three or four weeks north by the gardening calendar.

Feed the soil, we’ve been told, and your healthy soil will produce good vegetable crops. Stick to these basics: keep the soil covered, alternate cash crops and green manures, rotate crop families and minimize tillage. We used the last of our rye-hairy vetch seed mixture today. Cold hardy winter rye will be sown alone from this point forward. But not to worry – it’s tough enough to germinate in the snow. Nate and I picked up mulch and drip tape from a newly harvested sweet potato field so that we could disc and sow the cover crop mix today.

It was dirty work, and there was a chill in the wind. We pulled out our cold weather work clothes for the occasion. While we worked, we reminisced about a two-day getaway: To get her annual ocean (and seafood chowder) fix late last week, Jan dragged us off to a spot near the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on the southern coast of Maine. The woods were lovely. Many of our old friends from the Boreal Forest were present – red maples, white pines, hobblebushes, wild sarsaparilla, hay scented ferns – but it was the upper story of mature white oaks combined with an understory of cinnamon ferns along with the backdrop of tidal marsh that stood out for us. We wished for kayaks. Fall colors were already at their peak along the road over Bennington Mountain. Back at the farm, golds and oranges are popping out.

Best wishes, Ted 

Week of September 26, Distribution #17

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Assorted tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Ed’s Red shallots
  • Kale mix
  • Parsley
  • Delicata squash
  • Radishes
  • Green leaf or Butterhead lettuce
  • Eggplant

Your fruit share will be pears from Yonder Farm.

Next week, you’ll get yellow onions, more winter squashes and peppers, the last of our tomatoes, plus a variety of other fall vegetables and Brian’s carrots.

What’s new on the farm?

A cold, steady rain is falling as I write. The harvest team has relocated to the tomato and pepper greenhouses. Everyone is bundled up. Nate and I have retreated from the field where we had been preparing beds for fall onions and garlic. Planting Alliums and winter greens, harvesting sweet potatoes, leeks and miscellaneous roots and cleaning up the farm are our final projects of the season, and they will take all of the next four to five weeks. Nate and Jan have decided to visit a former worker (and new mom), leaving me to my own devices. And I am thinking about the farm tasks – and the five-week calendar – that will take us to the finish line.

It appears that summer has left us for good. Frost warnings have already been issued for our region. The forecast is for three rainy days, daytime highs in the 50s and overnight lows in the upper 30s. The warmth and daylight hours that make summer vegetables sweet and full of flavor are going fast. Last week’s corn was the last of the season. Next week’s tomatoes will likely be the last of our tomatoes. The Zephyr squashes and basil are looking peaked and are ready to retire for the season. Soon, we’ll be setting out the row covers and sandbags that will keep things from freezing during these final weeks. The farm crew knows that we are in the home stretch.

You might well ask what we have left to include in your weekly shares. To me, some of the best things to come from the vegetable garden are ahead of us, but perhaps that is because it is finally cool enough to consider firing up the oven: Leeks. Ginger. Small fennel bulbs, if they make it. Broccoli, if it makes it. Acorn and butternut squashes. Sweet potatoes, but not for another week or two, after they’ve been cured and become sweet in our heated greenhouse. Red and yellow onions and shallots. Assorted greens. And watermelon radishes and beets and Brian’s carrots.

Best wishes, Ted

Week of September 19, Distribution #16

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Delicata squash
  • French breakfast radishes
  • Green leaf lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Sweet Peppers 
  • Yellow potatoes
  • Rosemary
  • Assorted tomatoes
  • German White or German Red garlic
  • Sweet corn (more from Hand Melon Farm)

Your fruit share will be peaches – probably the last of the season – from Yonder Farm. Apples and pears will be coming soon.

What’s new on the farm?

Here’s a glimpse of packing day on the farm. Victoria is directing the activities of the crew today, just as she has done every Monday and Wednesday for seventeen years. She started working for us when she was 20 and newly married. She responded to an advertisement we placed in the local paper. She would have applied sooner, she told us, but in the first edition of our ad we failed to include our contact information. She’s been helping us to stay on the straight and narrow ever since.

Candelaria and Daniel, a mother and son team, are bagging tomatoes for the Tuesday delivery, which is likely to take the entire morning. Three large tomatoes and a pint of small ones in a paper bag. They cannot agree on how many weeks of tomatoes we might have left – two or three? Daniel is an optimist; Candelaria, who has more experience, says two. They can agree that it’s been one of our better tomato seasons in a long time and that several of our new varieties are worth keeping.  

Hiliberto and Martin are operating the produce washer – our car wash for vegetables. On their docket this morning are heads of lettuce, bunches of arugula and radishes and quarts of potatoes – some 425 units of each today. Martin’s grandfather was one of our very first employees. Although abuelo Ezequiel retired several years ago, he still actively farms his own place in Guanajuato, Mexico. He is a very sweet man, but he’s famous for becoming grouchy when there was too much talking in the field at the expense of getting the job done. “No mas platica!” he would bark.

Kristoffer and Kordehlia, both of whom are from just down the road (they are not related), are working in the cooler. They are doing the bulk of the packing today and wearing clothing suitable for late November temperatures. They’ll count the heads of lettuce or bunches of arugula or pieces of fruit into boxes or tubs and paste Victoria’s site labels on each. If counts are off… “demasiada platica!” But they are quite bright, and I’m sure that counts will be fine.

Jan and Nate, my wife and son, are working on the Delicata squash. They are doing their best to keep it in good condition. It’s axiomatic that if it’s a vegetable much in demand, it is difficult to grow or store. Think red peppers, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts and Delicata squash. If it’s easy – kohlrabi, braising greens, potatoes, turnips – demand is lukewarm. Jan and Nate have hand washed every Delicata, and they can confidently report that they must be sent now. Delicatas just don’t keep, which means we’ll send all of it in the next couple of weeks.

Little of my work takes place in the packing shed – I’m a field guy – but today I fetched the corn from John Hand (by popular demand!) and prepared a wholesale order for shallots. The ‘Ed’s Red’ shallots that I’ve come to like are the only crop we wholesale. If you’ve seen the retail price of shallots, you’ll understand why. Neighboring farmers Brian and Justine Denison, who will provide carrots for your shares next week, have agreed to market our shallots to their wholesale customers. We farmers are always looking for that crop – like ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’ tomato – that will pay off the farm. Salvador and his sisters-in-law, Angelica and Elisa, are processing the shallots for you. It’s tedious business, so don’t look for them in your CSA share until next week.

Andrea is working on the garlic share. There are the standard four categories – small, medium, large and compost – plus a fifth – seed. We’ll set aside a portion of the crop to plant in mid-October for harvest next year. The larger bulbs and most of the split cloves will be used for planting purposes. We grow two varieties: the ‘German White’ generally has six cloves around one or two small interior bulbs; the ‘German Red’ has perhaps eight or nine smaller cloves and is the spicier of the two.

And that is how we’ve spent our day.

Have a great week, Ted

Week of September 12, Distribution #15

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Radishes
  • Lettuce
  • Kale mix
  • Italian flat beans
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Basil
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Sweet corn (from Hand Melon Farm)

Your fruit share will be fall prunes from Yonder Farm.

Next week, you’ll get acorn or delicata squash, plus lettuce, arugula, tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic. The fall harvest is underway. Blocks of potatoes, winter squashes and leeks are still in the field along with small quantities of turnips, rutabagas and cabbage and the whole of the sweet potato crop. There are seven deliveries remaining in our season, but just three or four weeks that we can count on to be free from frost.

The greenhouse is full for the first time since June. We’ve just bumped the strawberries outside. The last of the greens will go next. Later this week, we’ll be seeding arugula, a variety of kales, spinach and choy for winter shares, and we’ll need the space. And then we’ll be done with greenhouse work for the year because it is the middle of September and the season is nearly over.

What’s new on the farm?

I’ve just climbed out of the cab of the old John Deere tractor. I’ve been doing some fall plowing. I must confess that I like how it looks – I’m tired of seeing weeds. Even in places where we’ve grown good crops, weeds are quick to follow. I also like that I can establish a good fall cover crop if I’ve plowed. Carbon in, carbon out.  

A 1985 video of Carl Sagan discussing “emerging issues” is now in the background as I write. I saw him speak when I was in school. It’s therapy to hear his calm, reasonable descriptions of the world we live in. The most important emerging issue then as now was global warming. Listening, I find it remarkable that we knew then – nearly forty years ago – as much as we know now about the dangers of a warming planet. It is perhaps less surprising that the barriers to change then were no different than they are now.

Gray clouds hang low in the sky, and it feels like it might rain. This puts some bounce in my step as I have a fair amount of ground to work up and cover crop or green manure seeds to sow and I’d be happy to have the work done before the rain begins. The cover crop I’ll sow today is a mixture of rye and hairy vetch, which I’ve noted in the past does wonders for the health of the soils we farm. The rye, if let to grow until spring, will fix carbon and the hairy vetch, a legume, will fix nitrogen. This use of the word “fix” is the odd convention by which soil scientists mean to say that these atmospheric elements are incorporated into or become a part of the soil by way of growing plants. It’s a truly wonderful thing. Unfortunately, we are on something of a teeter totter ride in that when we are growing cover crops we are in the business of removing carbon dioxide from the air, and when we are tilling the soil to prepare it for vegetable plants we are in the business of releasing carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

This is why no-till farming and other forms of conservation tillage get so much attention. Unfortunately, producers of warm-loving vegetables, and vegetable farmers in northern climates, and growers who don’t use pesticides (and we happen to be all three of these) have so far had little success with no-till farming. But the work goes on – trial and error. For now, it seems, if we are to make any kind of contribution to the goal of atmospheric CO2 reduction, it will have to focus on reducing the carbon footprint of our modest home and farm facilities (heaters, coolers, lights) and our trucks and tractors. And on this front we all have a contribution to make.

Have a great week, Ted

Week of September 4, Distribution #14

The News from Windflower Farm

What’s in your share?

  • Pie pumpkins 
  • Swiss chard
  • Arugula
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Shallots
  • Potatoes
  • Basil
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Sweet corn (from our farm)

Your fruit share will be peaches from Yonder Farm.

Jan, Nate and I washed potatoes yesterday to the happy chatter of Ayesha Roscoe on the radio. She interviewed a Brooklyn food writer as they prepared food together, discussing the simple joy of sharing a meal with a friend. The arrival of cool mornings is a reminder that these lovely summer days will come to an end soon. We start the morning in sweaters now, but by 10:00 am we are back to short sleeves. Our list of chores reflects a change in seasons. We planted the last crops of the 2022 summer season a week ago. Next week we’ll sow the greens – kale, chard, spinach, perhaps Yukina Savoy – that will go in our winter shares. Then it’s on to the overwintering crops that will go into 2023 shares: strawberries, spring onions and garlic. We are also beginning to prepare fields for cover crops. Old friends at the Farm at Millers Crossing have been producing a mixture of cereal rye and hairy vetch that does wonders for our soil. Seeding cover crops feeds the soil that will provide next year’s fertility.

What’s new on the farm?

How do you sustain yourself over the long haul?  How do you stay sharp and engaged? “Are you in the ballgame?” My son’s teacher would ask when she saw him drifting off. If I have more than just a few minutes, I might get out for a romp through the fields, or I’ll go for a bike ride if I don’t want to be on the farm. If I have a little more time, I’ll paddle on the nearby Battenkill or at one of the ponds on the Taconic plateau. And if I have two days, I’ll go sailing.

I ran into a group of Vermont farmers I know at a marina about 100 miles north of here on Lake Champlain where I keep an old sailboat. Out of context, it took us a minute to recognize one another. We were all a little self-conscious in our sailing gear – certainly too clean, and the floppy hats and life jackets were a little incongruous.  No dirty work boots here – sailors don’t tolerate muddy tracks on their decks. In the case of the Vermonters, three of them share an ancient Beneteau sailboat. The Quebecois who sail the lake are fond of French made boats, and old ones can be found cheap, they told me. In my case, to make it affordable, I share a sailboat with my brother-in-law. She makes up for being unsightly by not being the slowest boat on the lake.

Farmers, somewhat surprised to see other farmers in pursuit of a leisure activity in high season (“Weekend – what’s a weekend?”), did what farmers always do, we talked shop. The drought, new varieties, the no-till craze. We then talked about how we managed to escape from our respective 24/7 farm schedules. We agreed that it was by empowering our staff. They get to make decisions, they have more fun, our farms are better off with more engaged minds, and we get to go sailing! Clearly the stuff of an enlightened approach to personnel management, we agreed. Good, dumb luck, more likely.

We are truly grateful to have an experienced and dedicated staff who can help run our farm while we are occasionally off biking or canoeing or sailing. We are rested. We have de-stressed. We are excited to be back at work. And there is much to do.

Have a great week, Ted