We have proven over and over that we are not bloggers! Sitting down to write is just not in our list of strengths. We are on a mission to be better at documenting our work in the gardens. It is super easy to grab a few pictures.
Here is what Bonnie's starts look like this week. Kinda blurry but you get the green! These are all herbs that we are starting to increase our perennial beds and increase the diversity that we can provide to our members during the growing season. I love the picture on the top right...the little hands that help us make for some dense plantings but they are so proud of their work!
Did you hesitate? Forget the deadline? Just hear about us?
Lucky for you it isn't just the early birds who get the worm...or vegetables! This season we are offering monthly trials to let you experience the delicious abundance of The Country Gardens.
4 weeks for $75
Half Share Box
Picked up in Hazelton, Jerome or Twin Falls
Instead of doing my favorite part of running a CSA while the gardens are a mud bog, I am putting my attention into The Country Gardens Test Kitchen. One of us attempts to test each recipe that will end up on the boxes during the season (there are a few thrown in that we don’t get to before the print deadline).
To be honest, I am not a chef. I used to trade my brother his outdoor chores for my kitchen chores when I was growing up! There a couple issues with running a test kitchen when you are a gardener rather than a chef.
First, I am a free spirit kind of cook. I find myself making substitutions, adding things, skipping steps, combining two recipes… So I make something tasty that works out and I couldn’t tell you how I actually made it! When you pick up your box and read your recipes this summer…remember that the “bones” of the recipe are good but feel free to create your own special recipe.
Second, my kids aren’t the best taste testers. My husband will try just about anything…once. It makes for a challenging meal time and when you try to cram 10+ new recipes into a two week span, mutiny is considered. It is also hard to smile and encourage your kids to try something that you would like to feed to the chickens instead of eat for yourself. Last season, I made a soup and bread combination for lunch that none of us wanted to eat. I find recipes that include bacon are the best crowd pleasers!
Third, I am even less used to buying produce at the store than you are! I get at least an additional month (actually longer) of fresh vegetables out of my garden then a CSA member! Even during the winter, I am using canned, frozen and dried produce from the past season. To actually buy a bundle of beets or a bunch of kale seems CRAZY! I also know that many of the items that I need to buy are out of season and will not be as delicious as they could be. I may be a little bit of a produce snob…
One of our hopes is that we can introduce you to new vegetables and help you find ways that you like to eat them. We know it isn’t always popular but we try to incorporate some of the lesser known vegetables into your basket a couple times during the season. This allows you to try a couple different recipes and maybe hit on the one that you like. We also try to help give you new ideas for the common vegetables that show up regularly in your basket.
Here is the list of “must find a recipe for” vegetables: kohlrabi, garlic scapes, kale, beets, fennel, eggplant, tomatillo, pak choi, summer squash, cucumbers, turnips, swiss chard, leeks, fingerling potatoes, winter squash and parsnips. I have six that have made the final list…only a dozen left to go.
Remember, our website has a recipe box full of past season’s recipes and I attempt at adding recipes and ideas to our Pinterest page on a regular basis. Bookmark and follow us so that you can make the most out of your basket.
Have a great recipe that you found last year, an old favorite or a new one you want someone else to try first? Share it with me. I will run it through the TCG Test Kitchen and give it our rating.
Off to the stove…tonight’s menu: Roast Chicken with Rosemary Roasted Beets and Sautéed Brussel Sprouts. I love it when the menu sounds fancy but the prep is easy!
Starting seedlings is a great activity for young children. It is can be inexpensive (critical when you have a plant habit like the two of us). It brings spring to your home just a little sooner than the Idaho climate does. If you shop seed catalogs, it brings more diversity to your garden than you can find in local greenhouses. It expands the growing season in Idaho and allows you to eat fresh sooner.
Honestly though, starting seedlings can be discouraging when you don’t have a flat full of nursery quality plants and instead have wilty, spindly, pale yellow strings that are struggling for life. It happens to us too, especially when we attempt new kinds of seedlings we are not familiar with. There are tons of blogs out there on how to properly start seedlings…here are just some of our tips that have made us more successful, especially in Idaho and our busy lives.
1. Designate a safe area. More seedlings have succumbed to toy tractors driving through their soil, helpful little fingers “weeding” out the ones they didn’t like, curious minds looking at the roots, balls bouncing through the area… My kids get their own flats and seeds to plant. The youngest kid gets peas or beans that are easy to handle and oldest his choice of favorite vegetables. Remember that brightly colored seeds (pink, blue, orange, red) have chemical on them to prevent disease – your children should NEVER handle these seeds!
2. Let them have light. My biggest challenge has always been finding high quality light conditions in my home. I should have bought the $10 grow lights years ago! You can see right away if your plants are looking for light as they start to bend and get spindly just a few days out of the soil. Rotating their direction can help minimize the effects but a light-lacking plant will always be spindly and not have the strong main stem of a happy light-filled plant. Spindly plants are also harder to harden off and transplant to the garden. Some starts, like tomatoes, can be planted differently in the garden to overcome this growth but others cannot.
3. Not all potting mix is created equal. We prefer a mix specifically designed for starting seeds. They are typically a finer texture and help us get good soil to seed contact. A good soil mix will have enough nutrients to maintain almost any seedlings growth until it is ready for transplant unless you are delayed in getting larger starts out of their pots or you are over-watering.
4. Think outside the pot. Don’t get locked into the traditional image of what a seedling in a pot looks like. Check out these sites for ways to use items around your house as pots. Some of my favorites that I have used (and still do) are solo cups, old egg cartons, apple cartons from Costco and Rubbermaid bins.
5. Hold the flood. We are bogged down in mud and standing water right now and hating it. The plants do too! It is so tempting to encourage plant growth by giving them more water. Sometimes the answer is to just let them grow. Depending on the pots you have chosen to grow your seedlings in, water encourages mold and fungal growth or just drowns the seedlings. Seeing fuzzies on the top of your soil, time to back off on the water and let them dry off. Depending on how much humidity is in your growing area, a fan may be useful in drying off foliage and also is a great start for preparing your babies for the Idaho wind.
6. Prepare them for Idaho. Idaho springs are a tough environment to handle seedlings. Winds, frosts all the way into the end of May, hot days at the beginning of May…you need to be prepared for everything. I lost all of my seedlings one year when I set them outside and forgot about them while I was cleaning house, a wind came up and they were crispy before I could rescue them. Hardening plants take patience and a good location to slowly expose them to the elements over time. Always start this on a day when you will be home and check them often!
We hope you are getting your veggies from us this year BUT we also want you to enjoy a garden at your house as well. Start some flowers for containers. Make sure you always have your favorite herb on the kitchen counter. Grow some flowers for cutting.
What else is on the list this time of year? I am starting to clean out the shed from the fall and winter accumulation of “stuff” that didn’t get put away. I am hoping to do a re-arrange to make the pickup location more open and welcoming. There are handles to replace on shovels, harvest knives to sharpen, compost to spread, the hoop house to setup for March plantings and a new section of garden to break in. We really are expanding! It will be great to get back outside as soon as the mud becomes bearable to work in!
We are not salesmen. I turned down a profitable position with a local agro-chemical company because I couldn’t imagine myself sitting down with a farmer to discuss his fertilizer needs and closing the sale. These first couple months of the year are difficult as we market all of our produce for the year. Closing the deal doesn’t come naturally, we just expect that you will see the value of our product and decide to buy. Some of you will. Some will buy to support us as friends and family. Thank you! Others aren’t familiar with our gardens and have never met us. Some of you are comparing the benefits of our CSA with others in the Magic Valley. Hopefully these points will help you see the benefits of our CSA and help you decide to become a member of The Country Gardens in 2017.
So here is the sales pitch!
Your CSA pickup can be a quick in and out on the way home or a chance to chat with some like-minded veggie loving people. In one easy box, that we help you carry to your car, you get the diversity of produce without the multiple stops throughout the market. We also know what is in your box so we have recipe ideas to help you make the most of your purchases during the week. Some CSAs sell their extra produce through a stand at the market. We are committed to the CSA first and only. We don’t take extra produce to the market but split it among our members while balancing the need to not overwhelm members with too much produce. I love the farmer’s market and we go some Saturday’s just to get a flat of fresh fruit or a homemade pie and eat a homemade donut. But the reality of carrying all of my purchases and corralling a couple kids is never as idyllic as the vision I have in my mind.
A commitment to a healthy lifestyle is more than talk but taking concrete steps by changing your eating and exercise habits. We feel strongly that food doesn’t always come in a box. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a love for boxed mac and cheese, Cheerios, and Fig Newtons. My kids have a love for Arctic Circle and Wendy’s. But, a nutrient dense, preservative and additive free diet makes me feel healthier than other choices I can make at the supermarket. As a mom, I have noticed that eating choices are a habit that I have real influence over. I can become lax and my kids will ask for the packaged fruit snacks, crackers and spaghetti for every snack and meal. By saying no and offering the choices of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole meat roasts I influence their choices and they quit asking for the less healthy options! Your decisions influence their present and current health.
I learned how to plan meals from my mom. Involve your children in meal planning and set the example for how they will feed their families. The CSA box gives you a great opportunity to discuss healthy options and encourage them to participate in the kitchen cutting and washing vegetables. Talk to them about recipes and let them select new ones to try. If your kids are old enough, set aside one night a week when they are responsible for cooking the meal. Very few members are going to join a CSA without having to alter their menus and habits to some extent. This is daunting to some members but a great way to challenge and commit yourself to making you and your family healthy in 2017. CSA memberships are a step in the direction of a healthier you.
Hopefully this will help you get to know us just a little bit better and some of the thoughts that go into how we manage our business. We have a passion for vegetables and a desire to share that with our community and neighbors. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for additional information.
It is a real thing…vegetable guilt. It is a stumbling block for those new to a CSA and for those who love being a member of a CSA. That feeling of dread when you open the fridge and see a pile of vegetables that are past their prime and in some cases WAAAAAYYY past their prime. I accused my best friend of running a vegetable morgue when I was at her house last summer and she loves CSAs. Here are some thoughts and tips on dealing with and moving past the vegetable guilt and falling in love with the CSA.
1. As a CSA owner…we don’t take the loss of vegetables in your fridge personally. We love that you are willing to try new vegetables and are committing to purchase the best, fresh local produce. We understand that all of our vegetables are not going to be consumed at their prime or at all. Our goal is to challenge you to try new vegetables with full knowledge that you and your family will not love all of them. We know that life gets in the way of cooking some weeks. We know that you may not have the recipe to cook a new vegetable. Guess what??? We each have our own little vegetable morgue in our fridges!!! Ours eventually makes it to the chicken or pig pen to convert to eggs and bacon.
2. Plan for the future. So many of the vegetables that are moving past their prime can be preserved and used in the winter months when fresh, local produce isn’t available. The quickest solution is the freezer. Peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, beans, beets, carrots and corn can all be frozen and dumped into a crockpot soup for a winter meal. Try your hand at quick pickles for the fridge or go a step further and change cucumbers into canned pickles. Create a small drying rack to preserve the fresh herbs…it can be beautiful and functional.
3. Consider your normal waste. We love that you think our veggies are special and deserve to be used but how much food is typically thrown away in your house anyway? The average American family of 4, throws away 25% of their purchased food. TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT!!! That comes to about $2,200.00 annually! We could definitely take some lessons from our grandparents who lived during the Depression. What could you do with that 2K if you learned how to preserve and eat leftovers? If this is your average waste, you could throw away 4 ½ of the weeks of produce and be on par with your normal waste! We are not advocating this but are using the data to make the point that you might be a little over concerned about how many of our vegetables don’t make it to your plate. It might just be your normal household waste and you consider our vegetables extra special so you have an extra dose of guilt????
4. Share the bounty. Did your husband just bring home your CSA box and you know that you aren’t going to use the kohlrabi or cabbage or beets? Call your best friend, make a visit to your mom or walk across the street to your neighbor. Garden fresh veggies are normally welcomed in any home! An even better idea…find a recipe and host a BBQ with your favorite people! You won’t feel the pressure of finishing the new dish all by yourself and you may get some great suggestions from your friends for how to improve the recipe or an even better recipe to try next time!
5. Make a new friend. We know that often everyone is in a rush to get to dinner, the next baseball game, to mow the backyard…. Take a few minutes at the weekly pickup to make a new friend. These families are cooking with the same ingredients as you! I have gotten some great suggestions for new recipes by just chatting for a few minutes with a member. You may find one that would love to swap their kohlrabi for your beets or your corn for their lettuce. Need help breaking the ice? Just ask us and we may have a suggestion for who would be a great match!
6. Take a look at your kitchen tools. You don’t need fancy tools in your kitchen but well maintained tools make the cooking process so much more fun and relaxing. Could your knives need a quick sharpening so chopping up veggies is easier? Do you need to dig out a sauté pan that hasn’t gotten much use? Does the grill need a good cleaning so you can throw on a set of veggie kabobs? Interested in a food processor or spiralizer? Borrow one from a friend to give it a try before you make the investment on your own. Maybe it would be fun to support another local business and host a Pampered Chef party.
Move past the vegetable guilt! The benefits of fresh veggies far out-weigh loss of the ones that don’t make it out of the bottom drawer. Remember that now is the time to be committing to fresh vegetables for 2017. Sign up deadline is March 18th.
I added at the bottom the actual baskets that we put together for our 2016 members. Take a look at our variety but also the favorites that we try to build into each box. We have even more plans for expanding the weeks of our core crop harvests in 2017.
I actually had more trouble coming up with the wins list over the loss list. It took me a moment in the screaming world of the Arctic Circle playground (the boys will leave me in peace for a few minutes here and I can block out the noise around me) to re-focus on those items that need repeated in 2017. At this time of year, I have had a couple weeks (and many rainy days this fall) to stare out the kitchen window at the little glimpse of garden I can see from the house. I have moved past reflection on 2016 and onto action for 2017. My mind is full of solutions and new ideas. Taking a few steps back to the end of September, I was able to see the accomplishments from 2016.
So here is the list of 2017 Wins!!!
The Cold Frame in Hazelton: This was amazing! I slept so soundly this spring not worried about the harsh spring winds blowing over the new steel framed cold frame. I have spent several hours just standing in the middle enjoying the warmth of it both this spring and recently this fall. I still have tomatoes ripening inside and Lucas has a small garden in one end where he has been munching green beans and snap peas since the beginning of October.
This isn’t an entirely selfish investment. We harvested 4 weeks of green beans out of the cold frame (2 early and 2 late). Given some circumstances in our main bean harvest, this saved us this year! I also harvested tomatoes at the same time as Bonnie…more on this in a minute. I have a whole list of thoughts on how to use this space even more efficiently next season.
Pickup Locations and Times: This year we added the pickup location in Twin Falls and reduced the days and times that pickups were available in Hazelton and Jerome. We debated this a lot! It was one of our best decisions we have made.We were able to serve even more CSA members while devoting less time to the pickup. That means less set hours for us and more flexibility in how we spend time in the garden and time with our families. One of our primary aims is to make this little business work around our families – they always take first priority. As our kids grow, we hope to grow our business in new ways but at our speed with our priorities in mind.
I have talked with other CSA owners and market producers who are stressed and frustrated about the time that their business takes them away from family and vacations. While we love the CSA, we control and limit our time investment in the business. One of our greatest strengths compared to other CSA’s is our partnership that gives us 2 locations, 2 minds and a fall back person when the kids are sick, a cousin gets married or an annual camping trip rolls around. There are moments of stress but not in same vein as I have heard from others in the business.
I understand that everyone has an optimum time/day/etc that will work best for pickup. We need 2 harvests split during the week to minimize waste and keep plants producing. The switch from Tuesday/Friday pickup days to Monday/Thursday was made for a couple reasons. It allowed us to plan family activities (camping) for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We also noticed that last year several members would miss the Friday pickup because of their weekend plans. The number of baskets missed by members this year was reduced because we moved the days back. Hopefully our day options do not discourage you from joining The Country Gardens. Always let us know your conflicts and we may be able to work around them.
Tomatoes! Tomatoes! Tomatoes!: This is personal. I was able to provide ALL of the tomatoes for the Hazelton pickup by myself AND my tomatoes came off at the same time as Bonnie’s.
I have been jealous of Bonnie’s tomato production since I have known her. She used to bring these amazing tomatoes into our office while mine were tiny green hard balls. My tomatoes were literally green with envy!
I did it! I have watched, read, experimented and finally had success. I changed up my compost routine in the spring, altered the watering schedule, carefully selected varieties and used the cold frame. Heirlooms and hybrids, red and yellow… The best thing was that I had success in and out of the cold frame. Each year gardening brings additional challenges so I am hoping that my new found success is not a 2016 fluke.
Drip Irrigation: Bonnie literally pulled me kicking and screaming into a new irrigation system. Doug was right there helping drag me. I didn’t want to fight new systems, filters, figuring out irrigation schedules, picking a system, designing the system. I finally jumped (was pushed) but did call Bonnie to whine about it several times the first couple weeks.
I was wrong and they were right. I don’t think I could garden without it again. It is pretty amazing. I could harvest a row while irrigating a foot away. I could irrigate to crisp greens the night before and still walk in the garden the next morning. Weeds didn’t take over the edges of the garden which you just couldn’t avoid watering with the sprinklers. I shut off water to onions to prevent rot. I could keep small areas wet for germination. The list goes on. The flexibility in how I plant and work in my garden took a lot of stress out of my life. No more planning around sprinkler schedules or wind forecasts.
Fruit: In our planning, fruit is on our list as “would be nice to haves” and “bonus if it works”. We have started working on improving existing trees on our homesteads and planting additional fruits. Apples, plums and pears (from my kind in-laws) all from local trees were in the baskets this year. It would be great if this becomes a trend and we are able to offer these fruits every year. Hoping to add cherries, apricots, peaches and nectarines to the list too!
So there is my list. The budget doesn’t include company bonuses. But, hopefully the wins are what will bring customers back and will encourage new ones to join.
Now that the list is complete…back to focusing on solutions and new ideas for 2017!
I started reading Krista’s blog describing the losses in Hazelton and decided to stop a few sentences in. So I apologize in advance for any reiteration, but I didn’t want my thoughts to be influenced or to think “oh yeah” I forgot about that. If I forgot about it already than it wasn’t bad enough to mention here. However, I did start out by listing all of the things I would consider “losses” for the Jerome garden. It’s a long list. Two things you should know about me…I procrastinate, but function better under pressure (hence the blog that took me 3 weeks to write) and I have incredibly high expectations (hence the long list of what I consider failures). I believe one of the most important things in life is to learn from your mistakes. So although there were plenty of disappointments I am also going to share some insight that we gained that will help us moving forward. So where to start? We could go for a “walk” through the garden but somewhat chronological will be better since my disappointments start before the garden was even planted.
Our plant starts live on the sun porch of my house inside of a small 5x4 ft. greenhouse lined with shelves. We started herbs in January/February this year. For those of you who follow us on FaceBook you know that we sold herb packs on the opening day of the Twin Falls farmers market. This project was really my baby. I had been thinking and planning about this for months if not a year. We literally had hundreds of herbs that I watered and fertilized for months (with a newborn). We spent time starting and later transplanting them into peat pots. Krista spent hours creating stakes for them. We found babysitters for a Saturday and spent the Friday before loading our trucks. Unfortunately, it was a lot of work that didn’t pan out. Confirmation that the market is probably not for us. So, we focus on the CSA and explore other avenues to generate extra revenue.
All gardeners know that along with the plants in the spring come the weeds. And with the weeds this year also came the bugs. The ants and earwigs were expected. But even though I was watching for them, they still caught me by surprise destroying nearly all of the brussel sprouts before I was able to get them contained. I had a few new tactical strategies using cinnamon as a deterrent but similar to my efforts last year instead of leaving the garden they just relocated within the garden. Only time and mature, healthy plants seem to solve this one. After the ants came the aphids. They housed in every nook and cranny of nearly all of the plants in the garden. The most damage was done to the remaining 3 brussel sprout plants, the kale, and the red cabbage. Several rounds of insecticidal soap finally killed them off. To be honest by that time I had already abandoned the sprouts and the kale. And by then the damage was so severe that the cabbage is just now at the end of October finally maturing (at least 6-8 weeks late). To cap off the bug problem, I found several winter squash plants wilting in early July. Squash bugs (or stink bugs). I had already found them in my summer squash but they weren’t killing the plants so I just ignored them. Well they killed some of the winter squash and set most of the rest of it back and I definitely lost some yield. This was by far one of the bigger disappointments with limited numbers of squash and pumpkins and some varieties that didn’t produce anything. After asking around, apparently the best way to control these squash bugs is to hunt them down and squish them individually. Seriously?!? I don’t have time for that. If anybody knows anything better please let me know! I have a feeling it won’t be the last I see of them.
Last year I harvested my garlic too late and kept it too wet. It was ugly and the cloves were brown stained and starting to separate. This year, under drip irrigation it wasn’t over watered and had adequate time to dry out prior to harvest. I got everything harvested and hung to dry. A few weeks later the cloves started to dry and shrink inside their protective skin. A bust the second year. I’m not sure about this one…some research this winter. But I’m not giving up.
To address some comments from our surveys…the cauliflower and broccoli are in the garden. Broccoli has been an issue of maturity in the Jerome garden. I will continue to try some different varieties and planting times. The cauliflower I feel we found a good variety. Unfortunately in 2016 there wasn’t enough for everyone. Next year I feel confident with this one. On a sad note…we started a cauliflower hybrid called Veronica. It is vibrant green and kind of spiky looking. I really wanted to try this one. It had great germination and vigor. Nothing seemed to bother it. Unfortunately as soon as the warm weather hit and it was at peak maturity it bolted and got very bitter. I think it needs to be a fall harvested variety and am definitely trying it again next year! Don’t dismay we are trying!
I have always had trouble with my tomatoes getting blossom end rot. It starts with a black spot at the bottom of the tomato and rots. It is typically from calcium deficiency and a couple of rounds of fertilizer have always done the trick. Well, last year I had trouble with the bell peppers rotting. This year was even worse. Time is of the essence in this situation, and unfortunately that is something I do not have much of. So a lot of peppers went to waste. In this situation it can be an issue of variety as well as water management. There are several factors and some research is in order for this winter.
There’s a magical window for planting fall harvested crops. It’s almost a spring crop do-over as the weather starts to cool down. And if done correctly several of these crops will hold well into the fall and even early winter. What’s on our fall plant list? Carrots, beets, turnips, lots of greens, bunching onions, and radishes. Well, the germination was spotty at best and some things didn’t come up at all. Its easy to place the blame elsewhere. I don’t want to point my finger at myself. Luckily Krista and I have two gardens and had plenty of other veggies to fill the boxes.
The last of my whining and rambling. I promise.
Hopefully, this helped address some of the comments we received on our customer surveys. I hope it doesn’t come across as if we are making excuses for the areas we are lacking. We want everyone to know that we are trying. And luckily for our customers, Krista and I want the veggies as much as you do so keep the challenges coming. Sorry also for no pictures! Krista and I rarely take our phones to the garden but I will try better next year. Please keep up the suggestions and comments!
Some days our corporate past shows through our farm roots. We set agendas for meetings, make action items and schedule sessions for reviewing our performance. Yes, we do our own year-end reviews! While some of you are laughing right now (yes, I know my husband is one of them!), Bonnie and I are of like mind – something that helps us through the challenges and aligns our dreams.
In a real year-end review, you turn your self-rated performance in to your boss. Bonnie and I are going to turn our self-performance reviews in through the blog. The plan is a series of 4 blogs: the top failures/losses from each of us and the top wins from each of us. Let’s get started and see how we line up!
I am starting with the top losses for 2016 so I can end on the high note of our top wins. Always leave the boss with a positive last impression, right? In no particular order…
Local Basket Additions: This year we included Kaufman’s Barley Soup, Russet Burbank potatoes, Kelley’s Orchard peaches and Ballard’s cheese curds. That isn’t a very long list! It is not our goal to include a product from another producer every week BUT it is one of our goals to show the diversity of local, delicious food products that are available in our beautiful valley. We also are aware that some of our neighbors grow better products than us! We missed out on melons this year because our baskets were full of our own produce. They would have been better baskets if we would have supported our neighbors and included a tasty watermelon or cantaloupe.
Action Item: Make a list of products and include them regardless of the items available from our own gardens!
Cole Crops: These are the brocollis, cauliflowers, cabbages… You know the family – it is a loved or hated one. Some of you were happy to see very few of these in 2016. I was disappointed.
We took our cabbage for granted. We did this with carrots last year. You plant it and it grows, right? Not this year. We fought bugs, they split, they quit growing, you name it and it happened to our cabbage. We had 8 different kinds of cabbage for you this year and most of you got 2 kinds. There were conical, red, traditional, Asian, late, early and mid-season – all failures.
We are slow learners about some things, one of these is broccoli and cauliflower. We figured out bug control. We can’t find the variety. We have struggled to find a broccoli that gives a consistent head so we can do an easy harvest. We had some beautiful big heads of cauliflower that we tasted one morning and spent the next 30 minutes spitting trying to get the bitter taste out of our mouths. There was also a lot of seed that failed to germinate at both locations. Research tells us it is a combination of planting timing, variety and nutrient management.
Action Items: Eliminate a couple cabbage varieties. Try again! Don’t take anything for granted.
Bugs: They are everywhere! It is completely normal to have a whole host of these little guys in the garden…some pests others just bugs. We use Bt (an organic pesticide) to control caterpillars in all of the cole crops and it works great. But we also struggled this year with some other big issues. Earwigs ate our cabbage leaves into lace. Aphids took over whole sections of the garden. Squash bugs attacked in Jerome. A mysterious bug (flea beetle in Jerome? ??? in Hazelton) ate a couple weeks of succession plantings in late summer. Some of these issues I was late in taking seriously in my garden. I failed at my scouting and lost a couple crops because I wasn’t paying attention.
Action Item: Pay attention! Release lady bugs early. Research pest control options.*
*This is a tough one. I know how to control these little bugs! Pesticides are easily available to control almost every issue we had this year. Finding the best option so we don’t need to use pesticides is the challenge. Our kids play in the garden and eat the veggies right off the plants. Bonnie controlled her aphids by getting rid of some of their environment and her plants rebounded. I think I created my own issues with how I rotated succession plantings.
Nutrient Management: We push our garden plots to produce more than almost any other gardener. Half of my garden area grew 2 crops this year! Beans followed peas. Pak choi followed beets. Beets followed kohlrabi. Lettuce followed spinach. Spinach followed cilantro. It goes on and on. We plant zucchini and cucumbers in April and expect them to produce full crops for 18 weeks. It is a lot to ask from a plant and the soil. Maintaining properly balance soils is crucial to vigorous veggies.Watching Bonnie’s garden last year, I know that she has super rich soil because of the history of the land. It also means she gets monster weeds! I could see the difference in growth patterns between the locations. My soil needs built up to maintain and improve its health. So, I changed up my management and top-dressed some of my heavy feeding crops in the spring with really good results. Peppers and tomatoes were planted with a scoop of compost. The little boost got them growing until their roots could more fully explore the soil profile for nutrients. Win! This wasn’t successful in late season plantings. Loss! Parts of the garden just felt tired.
Action Item: I need a more comprehensive plan for building soil health in Hazelton. Compost this fall. Plan for spring and summer nutrients.
Communication / Blog: Do you regularly visit our website? Is there anything new and interesting on the website to give you a reason to visit? Nope. Did you have questions during the year that didn't get answered? Bonnie and I both prefer chatting with each of you as you pick up your baskets rather than sitting down to write a blog or update the website. But, we sometimes forget to share all of the information with each of you while we are gathering vegetables, making sure the kids aren’t smooshing tomatoes and answering your questions. Some of you are getting extra tips and recipe suggestions, some more information about how our gardens are doing, and some more details about our little ones.
Did you know we have a website, Facebook page and Pinterest site? Not everyone is into the technology but these are great ways to allow everyone access to more recipes and garden updates. It also lets us have a presence in front of a greater audience that will expand our business. We hope to someday grow our little business into a medium size business. The kind compliments that you have shared with your friends are our greatest marketing tool but we also need a place to allow interested customers easy access to our business.
Action Item: Figure out a way to make communication a habit instead of an afterthought.
I will forever think of the word “challenge” differently. My favorite boss used it whenever there was an issue in my job that I needed to address. “Your challenge is to deal with…” I have to admit that I used the same phrase later when I was managing employees! So, looking at our list of opportunities for improvement I see an easy fix, a couple big challenges and a few challenges that will take many more seasons to perfect. In the corporate world, we would now have meetings to check the progress on our challenges. Lucky for me, the meetings are now in the coffee shop with a friend!
Both of us tend to avoid the squash patches of our gardens from June to September. As long as the area looks healthy and green, we just hope that there are lots of squash developing under all the foliage. So, Thursday after harvest was finished, I went squash diving. I grabbed my phone and waded in to check out our situation. I came out with a twisted ankle and a set of pictures that I have been trying to match up with what we planted this spring.
When we looked at our business goals while we were picking seed this spring, we decided that we would only grow plants that were edible. We aren’t a pumpkin patch! Since I was charged with the squash seed, I took the challenge to find varieties that were edible but beautiful ornamentals. Who doesn’t love a pile of multi-colored pumpkins to celebrate harvest? That does mean that in my pictures are our old stand-by’s – butternut, spaghetti and acorn. But it also means that I have some questions – Winter Sweet, Jarrahdale, Carnival, Winter Luxury…??? We planted 14 different kinds of squash and pumpkins! What were we thinking?
There are some on the list that obviously didn’t do well under my care this summer. Some are small, too immature or just didn’t make squash. We may find them hidden in Bonnie’s garden when we venture out squash diving there. These aren’t failures, just an added bit of information in our garden notebooks about what seed to pick next year. In our opinion – you can’t plant the same garden every year but have to add in something new or interesting just for the challenge.
Here are some pics and list of what may be coming to your basket. I don’t know if it will be come with a sigh of relief or disappointment but, you will not receive a dozen more squash in the last couple weeks of the CSA! Everyone should get a spaghetti, a butternut, a baking pumpkin for pies or breads and one of the decorative squash (but edible!).
Shamrock – Like the name implies, these squash ripen to a light green color and are shaped like a three leaf clover. They look amazing and will be one of the first to adorn my front step in October. Protect it from frost on your step and then enjoy it during November or December.
Then there are a couple mystery pumpkins. I have a guess but wouldn't put money on which is in the pictures and which isn't!
Jarrahdale – When you are looking at pumpkins in the seed catalog, you HAVE to pick a blue one and a white one. This is a large blue pumpkin that is excellent for baking when you are done admiring it.
Valenciano – And here is the white pumpkin. I found one that is has the dual purpose of becoming your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.
Winter Luxury – An orange pumpkin with white webbing. Not that special to look at but will be delicious in your fall pie baking.
Kakai – Roasted pumpkin seeds? This is your pumpkin to make easy cleaning and prep work so the delicious snack is a snap.
I am almost positive that some of these varieties aren’t going to mature by the last basket. Looking for one in particular? Let us know and we can hook up in October!