Summer is upon us, and crops like our dry-farmed tomatoes are on the verge of being ready for harvest. Check out all that is going on in the fields.
Although the infamous Food Drought occurs during March, there’s still a lot happening in the orchards and fields. Here are some pictures of the various things that are in Spring bloom for you to enjoy. (Originally posted in March 2013)
Community Supported Agriculture, whether receiving a share or going to a Farmers Market, is the best way to ensure a farm like ours thrives and continues to provide a place for natural organic diversity.
Participating in the Farm’s CSA program and receiving a weekly share gives us the chance to experience the seasonal nature of the harvest over the course of the year. Participating from year to year provides an even broader perspective of how nature changes the harvest from one year to another.
Here’s a look at what 2013 was like (click on highlighted text to reach an associated post) –
This has been just one year in the life of Live Earth Farm. We want to thank all those who have participated in our Community Supported Agriculture program over the past 18 years. The Farm would not exist without the support of its community. As the Farm begins its 19th growing season, all of us here are dedicated to continuing to provide our community with the best organic produce possible, and to maintain the connection made between you and the source of your food.
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Our CSA program is on its 4-week 2012-13 Winter Delivery Break – while there may be no veggie boxes for a few weeks things are still (quietly) happening in the fields, as some plants bolt forth and others go into retreat. Here are some pictures from around the farm for you to enjoy.
Taylor’s Crop & Field Notes:
The farm is particularly alive and green right now, thanks to that lovely warm rain we had a few weekends ago, and though it may still technically be winter the tempo these past few weeks is definitely starting to pick back up with the fields and orchards awakening early from the unseasonably warm weather.
We have large blocks of Romanesco cauliflower, rainbow chard, green garlic, and crunchy carrots coming on strong. I can’t believe it, but the early Chandler strawberries are not far off. The apricot branches are swelling – ready to burst into life in the next couple weeks. The tractors are working hard to prep fresh new beds for spring crops, and we are direct sowing seeds of spinach, radishes and various varieties of mustard greens.
We are all trying to relish these last few weeks of winter around the farm before things launch back into high gear for the start of main season CSA deliveries in April. Weekly restaurant, retail and wholesale deliveries have been on hiatus, and will begin again the first week of March.
During the seasonal CSA delivery break between winter and main seasons, we welcome you to come stock up on plenty of produce at one of the 3 year-round markets we attend: Santa Cruz Downtown on Wednesday afternoons; West Side Santa Cruz Saturday mornings; or Los Gatos on Sunday mornings.
The main CSA season is just around the corner…and it’s shaping up to be a great year ahead.
Laura’s news from the greenhouse:
The warm weather we’ve been experiencing over the past couple of weeks has really helped speed things along in our greenhouse. Many of the seedlings for our staple crops (chard, kale, lettuce) are already being planted out into the field, and even the first of our spring specialty crops (summer squash and onions) are beginning to poke their heads out of their trays.
We’ve been embarking on a number of improvement projects to our greenhouse area as well, with a thorough cleaning of all our equipment, additional irrigation, as well as building some new structures to help improve the efficiency of work-flow with our vacuum seeder. We’re also trialing some new varieties of seeds, so keep your eyes peeled for things you may not have seen from us before. Good things lie ahead for us this season!
With only 5 weeks left, our 2014 CSA Season is quickly drawing to a close, and with impending rains (we hope soon) the Farm is in transition mode.
Tuesday, in anticipation of Wednesday night’s rain, the farm was abuzz with activity. By 7 o’clock in the morning our “Mudder” (high clearance tractor) was out in the field, Juan and Clemente sowing a large block of carrots, cilantro and spring onions. With shorter days and colder weather ahead of us, these seeds will take twice as long to develop into a harvestable crop – I expect January or February of 2015.
As soon as the tractor was freed up from doing the field sowing, Clemente and his team hitched up the transplanter and headed out to plant an acre of mixed brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower). By mid afternoon, most of the crew was busy packing CSA shares in the barn, however when the wind picked up and rain clouds started moving in a group of us headed out with the tractors to get the butternut squash, curing in the field, loaded into bins and hauled off into storage. We had just enough time to get it all done before dark–always a good feeling to know the Winter Squash is dry and safe for the winter.
The last couple of weeks a lot of energy and attention has gone into preparing the strawberry beds where next seasons crop will be planted. Not a moment too soon since the nursery called to pick up the first 15,000 strawberry starts. The Chandlers are always the first ones and need to be planted right away. It is our earliest variety and we can, under favorable weather conditions, start picking ripe berries as early as March. In addition to strawberries, other popular spring crops we need to plant now are green garlic, fava beans, Brussels sprouts and onions. To ensure a steady harvest during the winter we’ve also been sowing and transplanting hardy wintercrops such as parsnips, rutabagas, cabbage, turnips, broccoli, and leeks. Less winter hardy crops such as all the salad greens will be grown under protective row covers and hoop structures.
The waiting is over, our dry-farmed tomatoes will be in everyone’s share this week, about 2 weeks earlier than last year. If only we could dry-farm more of our crops we might not be so worried about water shortages during this current drought cycle.
Before the rise of dams and aquifer pumping, much of the American West practiced dry-farming. Today only a handful of perennial crops such as Olives, Grapes, and Apples are still dry-farmed on a limited scale. Along some favorable coastal microclimates farms like ours dry-farm tomatoes, potatoes, and sometimes winter squash. What’s special about dry farming is the ability to grow a crop by only utilizing the residual moisture in the soil accumulated during the rainy season.
This year the first field of Early Girl tomatoes was planted just before the last rains of the season fell back in March. Since then, 4 months now, no additional water has been applied to the crop. Key to dry farming successfully is to prevent soil moisture evaporation. This is done by tilling the surface of the soil, creating a layer of dry mulch that effectively traps moisture in the clay-rich subsoil.
The “Early Girl” is the tomato variety of choice for dry farming. It has a vigorous rootsystem that can tap deep into the subsoil.Dry-farming tomatoes is a technique perfected a couple of decades ago by Molino Creek, a farming cooperative situated in the coastal hills above Davenport in northern Santa Cruz County. We are fortunate to enjoy a similar microclimate here in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the southern part of the county. Under optimum conditions the plants, although stressed from a lack of water, will stay healthy enough to yield tomatoes bursting with flavor.
Although Early Girl’s were bred in France, tomatoes find their origin in the jungles of Central and South America. The Mayans called it “xtomatl” hence the name tomato. When the Spanish brought the first tomato to Europe the Church condemned eating tomatoes as a scandalous and sinful indulgence. The French on the other hand admired its sensuous appearance and were enticed by it, believing that the red fruit had aphrodisiac powers, and so called it “pomme d’amour” or love apple. Today, we probably couldn’t imagine anything more scandalous than not having tomatoes as part of our diet.
Potatoes are one of my favorite crops to grow, and probably had something to do with my decision to start farming. When I joined the Peace Corps in Western Samoa (South Pacific 1985-1988), I worked with farmers used to growing upland-taro to try to plant and experiment with different varieties of potatoes.
We successfully selected a few varieties that grew well, especially in fields at higher elevations where temperatures tended to be cooler. Many of the farmers were excited to sell them at local markets, where they sold as a specialty at a good price. Potatoes are native to the Andean mountains of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, where several thousand varieties have been identified.
Today potatoes are grown worldwide, cultivated everywhere from below sea level to 14,000 feet above. You may find it interesting that potatoes belong to the Nightshade family, same as your favorite tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Potatoes were once considered the poor man’s crop, and where often grown to protect against famine during times of war and grain crop failures. In some countries, such as Ireland, dependence on the potato grew until 1845, when the famous potato blight (Phytophtora Infestans) wiped out most of the crop and catalyzed a severe famine and massive immigration of Irish to the United States.
Nutritionally, potatoes are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and minerals, particularly potassium, provided the skin is consumed.
We are starting to harvest the earlier maturing Colorado Rose potatoes for our CSA shares this week. The tops are still green, but the tubers have sized up enough to start digging them. Over the next few months you will receive different varieties, both white and yellow fleshed, including Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold, and Fingerlings. Enjoy!
Kohlrabi is in the Brassica oleracea category. The part that is eaten is the stem, which swells into a globe, rather than the root. It can grow to the size of a grapefruit, but will tend to have a wooly interior, so it is far better harvested at half the size.
There are two varieties, green and purple, but both taste similar. They have a distinctive flavor, something of fresh water chestnuts with a touch of radish and celeriac. They make a marvelous foil for other flavors; sometimes fooling people into thinking they are artichoke hearts. Kohlrabi is rich in potassium, fiber, and vitamin C.
It is particularly good as a salad or in a platter of crudités when par-boiled. Slice it and simply simmer it for a few minutes, then leave in cold water for a while before draining and mixing with other vegetables.
Grated it can be lightly cooked, stir-fried in a little oil or butter with some mustard seeds to give it some spice. You can stuff it, or use it instead of potatoes in gratin dishes. It can also be used like cauliflower.
Much more appreciated in Europe than in the United States, the chicory family is a large one. Belgian endive, curly endive (sometimes called frisee), escarole, and radicchio are all members. Each differs considerably in appearance, color, and to some extent flavor, although all share a slightly bitter taste, and most produce a root that can be roasted, ground, and combined with coffee to create the chicory coffee beloved in French/Creole cultures.
The chicory family is a wide and varied group that can be loose-leafed or tightly-headed, tapered or round, smooth-leaved or frilled. They are also brightly colored, ranging from the purest white and pale yellow to bright green or maroon.
All members of the chicory family are flavored for the bitterness that they all share, unlike lettuces, which are chosen for their delicacy. The chicories’ bite and texture combine nicely with richer ingredients in salads, like fruits, nuts, and sharp cheeses or smoked salmon, chicken or ham.
Try chicories with the following additions: Fresh shell beans or fava beans, blanch until tender. Remember that adding vinegar or lemon juice will cut the bitterness of the choicories.