Today is Wednesday, 6:08 AM. The alarm actually woke me at 5:50 today. Each of the last two days I was lying in the dark, and at 5:49 sat up and turned off the phone before it went off. If I really pay attention to my inner clock, I usually have a pretty good sense of what time it is. I love mornings, especially this time of year. With the lengthening of the days, I get fairly manic. A sunny spring morning makes my soul overflow with happiness and I feel like anything is possible. Everything is exploding with vibrant green, and the afternoon breezes caress the leaves as they wave gently at me, thanking me for my help.
I revel in the lushness, walking around the garden in stunned amazement at the quick spring march of cell construction. Here in Northern California the sun is again high on the horizon and we receive its warming rays directly. From Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day the sun is too low as it tracks across the sky and very little growth is achieved. Plants sit, waiting for the sun to return, simply biding their time. Picking for CSA requires that plants be full grown before winter comes so that we have a stock of vegetables to work from. We purchase storage crops from other local farmers who use quality growing practices. Last year we purchased 1200 lbs of potatoes, 600 lbs of winter squash, 300 lbs of onions and 30 lbs of garlic from Irene’s Garden Produce, and her offerings are fabulous! We also purchase apples and various other farm produce from Redtail Ranch to pass on to our members and augment our offering. During the cooler months we specialize in salad mixes, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage etc), peas, carrots, beets and leafy greens. Our elevation and extensive use of season extension devices (row covers, low hoop tunnels and high tunnels) allow us to grow excellent hot crops during the warmer months as we focus on tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, basil, okra and eggplants. This last winter we ran the CSA all the way through with a two week break for the holidays. We learned to really focus on starting seeds for fall/winter during July and August, which is the hardest time of year to keep seedlings wet. We’ve been experimenting will all sizes of PVC to make hoops for tunnels, utilizing thinner spun row covers, thicker frost blankets and four-year greenhouse plastics. The spun row cover (Remay or Agribon) comes in various thicknesses and is usually six feet across. We bought a 500ftx14ft roll of the thicker frost blanket on sale a couple years ago and we’ve been using it for all sorts of midrange low tunnels with 1/2 inch PVC and a baling wire purlin wrapped around each hoop and staked on either end with a piece of rebar. See web articles on ‘caterpillar tunnels’ for visuals on these cheap, easy hoop-houses. We built a cinderblock vegetable storage room that will allow us to better keep storage crops, dramatically increasing our ability to serve our customers. As we move forward into our third year of operation, many of the pieces are in place for an expansion. Our goal for summer is 30-50 shares, and we’ve been doing 20-25 this spring. This is a dramatic increase from our previous high of 18 last summer. We’ve increased the number of beds we’re cropping, doubling our growing space last year, and doubling it again this year. We farm an acre+ intensively, with various seasonal extension devices in place including 1600 square feet of unheated hoop-house.
We’ve been cutting cover crop and prepping beds. We plant a prebagged ‘soil builder mix’ of hairy vetch, oats, fava beans and probably some other things. We also try to mix in some mustard seed because the bees love its early flowers. I also love the bright yellow splashes of color, scattered throughout the garden. We’ve allowed some brassicas to naturalize, and we have different kales, mustards, and a few broccolis popping up as volunteers. I figure if I’m gonna have weeds they might as well be weeds I like, so we’ve allowed the red orach (strawberry spinach) to begin to naturalize. I like to keep random vegetables that pop in rows that don’t carry their kind, and Amber likes to save random flowers, so we often end up with a bit of a patchwork bed distribution. We’re still making the transition from a large garden to a small farm, and as we lengthen our beds we’re working on planting our crops in the same general areas for ease of harvest. We rotate our crops by family, and we try to cover crop all beds slated for hot crops because they don’t get planted out till late so the cover will get big and the soil will receive the maximum benefit. Also, the heavy feeders in the hot crop lineup sure appreciate the additional nutrients available to them thanks to the cover crop. An additional benefit to large cover crop is that it will sprawl across the whole bed and pathway, smothering out weeds. The crucial trick with cover crop is the same as with winter veggies; the earlier you get it planted the better. The piles of greenery from the cover crop are awesome for chickens and make great compost piles.