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Monday, July 30, 2007

Brutal Honesty and the Death of the Garden - Part I

It would be easy, you know, to keep this blog full of posts that show an orderly, beautiful garden; one that never has any weeds, any bugs, any hint of down time. any sadness. But life isn't like that and gardens aren't either. There are two times during the year (in this part of the world, anyway) when everything is a mess. period. Although it's time to start over, we haven't done anything about that yet. We can go out and gather a little of this and that, but only because we know where it is. Nobody else would venture into the field, because from a distance (and even up close, really), it looks like a wasteland.There are a few vegetables yet to be had. But pulling them up or mowing them down and plowing it all under requires a particular state of mind. Not to mention the time and the effort and enough dry days to get the tractor into the field. So what is out there that can give us a week or a few days of summer vegetables before we say goodbye? a few eggplants, maybe some tomatoes, peppers that would go longer if we left them.

Still, as you wade into the come upon a few surprisingly vigorous things. The okra will be with us as long as we allow, or until we just get tired of cutting it every day and a half. The crazy fence, strung last summer exclusively for loofas, is the heart of the remainders. Planted with cucumbers and birdhouse gourds, and laced with many, many more loofas (which cannot be killed and will come up and thrive no matter what you do)...this fence will stand lush with vines well into the fall...and the hot peppers - almost lost in the masses of old tomato plants and fallen -over bell peppers; they too will go on and on...unless we just tear up the row. And then there are large expanses of things that used to be, like the watermelons. Sale today. $2. The very end of the selling of the summer produce. And the rows of lovely sunflowers. They're long gone from the field, but held onto the fenceline until a week ago. I write this post not to depress's depressing enough for me as it is! I just thought a little honesty was in order. If you follow the garden, you follow it through it's entire life. One big thrust of activity - pulling, plowing, tilling...and the hope of the coming season begins. And that's not as hard as it may appear. On the other hand, my personal shame, The Late Summer Decline of the Herb Beds is indeed enormously intimidating. And that post is next. In the meantime, I can always think back just a couple of months, and remember how glorious it has been.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It's OK For Vegetables To Get Wet -

-but the market tent has definitely seen better days. A few drops were falling as a customer buys a a melon and some cucumbers...I saw the new mower in the yard - parked. Will is over there weed-eating around the beehives. I thought (briefly) that maybe i should drive the mower under the carport. But no. I've been using the leaf blower on it, but it has dirt that won't come off with the blower. And besides, yesterday Will got it stuck in the pond. So there's mud too. So I thought, well, let a little rain wash it off, and I'll get over there with a towel, and just wipe it down. ok. Here's another one for the Department of 'HA-HA'! I mean, the sky didn't look particularly threatening, and i didn't hear any thunder (although I think the dogs and cats did, who wanted in the house in the worst way), and it really looked like a little summer afternoon rain, nothing more. This is where the 'ha ha' comes in. The little drops turned into big drops, then sheets of rain, then more rain, then Will and I were both soaking wet and in the carport. I swear the sun was out in the west, and the clouds were not much to speak of. But this went on for, oh, maybe an hour and a half! pouring rain. Maybe two inches, I don't know. (we forgot to empty the rain gauge, so you can only judge by random buckets and things out in the yard). Here is picture of how unassuming it looked from the front porch:See? you can hardly even see those little fat drops. The market tent was filling up with water. What this means is, big pools of rain are collecting on all four sides, in big pockets on the roof of the tent. Somebody has to get out there with a broom and heave-ho, dumping the water off of each corner from underneath. Either that, or the whole thing may collapse. I ran out there and did the honors. It looked like it was letting up. But the more I pushed with the broom, the heavier the rain got. Then there was a clap of thunder. Not me, I thought. I'm not going down this way, holding a broom under the market tent and getting struck by lightening. I ran back to the house and ran dripping through the house out the other end to the carport. Just to let everyone know, the animals know how to spend their time during a storm: Of course, the black cat has to go into the workshop, because the red cat won't tolerate it's presence. Back to the storm: In the driveway, I find Will vigorously washing the car in the pouring rain! He had done the mower, and moved on to the vehicles. ok. Well, lots of excellent rinsing going on. The tent, meanwhile, is filling up with water again. I got sick to death of running out there and pushing upwards with the broom. By this time, the roof of the tent was ripping along the seams as I pushed the water out. oh well. The tent has had a long and happy life. Its still good for keeping out the sun, right? ...At long last, the rain stopped. I believe (and this from the radar on the tv) the storm just formed over us and stayed there; a red blob - for more than an hour. I wasn't too worried about the melons and vegetables. But they were now all layed on on soaked and nasty tablecloths, and the scale and money box and other stuff were in a big pile covered with very wet dishrags. yuk. So i gathered clean towels and rags and trudged out to wipe down each squash, every tomato. Rolled the melons aside one by one, pushing the tablecloth aside. You have to clean up. I mean, you don't want the customers to think you're a slob now, do you? In my opinion, vegetables look even more beautiful after a good rain. We were out sitting with our coffee this morning, talking about getting the front field cut for hay. It's a tricky business. When the hay gets baled, you better be darned sure you have a couple of days of dry weather coming up...or all you get is moldy bales that have to sit in the field. maybe forever. good thing the guy didn't show up this morning.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Free Cat To Good Home

um...anybody out there want a perfectly good black cat?
talks a lot. doesn't get along with large red cats. wants to play. left out on the road on a very cold winter night. no bigger than your hand. wild as anything. but not anymore. took two weeks to train it to come to the carport for food. wants to come in the house at every opportunity. 'good mouser'. this means, will kill small things - no discrimination. will purr if held very closely. good lapcat too. a joker.we've decided that this cat will never fit in here. mostly because the Crazy Cat is king, and they hate each other with a passion, and that will never do. We won't put him out, but we are hoping someone will think he is very cute (which he is) and will make him a one-cat home.

P.S. also, cannot stay out of photographs...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Four Grueling Mornings

as much of the morning as I could take each time, and that's maybe two hours! I'm not a sissy about manual labor, but it's July...this year I'm not quite as good about getting out at 6 a.m. It always seems to be 7 instead. The sun is up, but not over the trees quite yet. The job; 35 blackberry bushes all in a row. But you can't see them anymore. Because weeds and vines have moved in in a big way.They're in there somewhere, those blackberries. And if they aren't weeded and mulched, you run the risk of kissing the whole thing goodbye. It's an investment, and not a one-season venture. So this has to be done. Like any other garden job, it's best not to look down the row as you're working. Especially after you've been working for an hour and you think you've made such excellent progress, only to look up through the sweat and see how pitifully little you have accomplished. I used the deer fence as a guide, telling myself that if I just weeded a section that was as long as one section of that fence, it would be enough for the day. But it's not like the wooden fence everywhere else on the property. The spaces between poles are much, much farther. So I didn't keep that little pledge to was just a game, but a useful game during this kind of task.Yep. It was as hot as that looks. On the fourth morning, I decided to just stick it out and get to the end, because I just didn't know how many more mornings I had left in me for this job.
You have to locate the center of each bush, then (with a hoe) pull outward to loosen those stupid vines...all the while trying not to break any of the blackberry branches. Each plant had maybe five or so REALLY long branches and of course every vine and weed was tangled up in them. Fact: blackberries will only set next year on this year's branches. So if you tear them up or break them off, you're not going to have any berries next summer. When you're delirious with heat and sweat and you only want to be finished, you have to resist the temptation not to care! you have to care. In the end, Will followed up with the weed-eater so it didn't look so messy, and so that they can be more finely weeded before mulching. But the hard work is done. Will worked so hard to put these bushes in early in the spring, and we knew somebody had to get out there and take care of's true, there' way too much for the two of us to take care of, and we can never keep a handle on everything all through the summer. The herb beds are a mess this time of year. But they can be turned over, mulched, and planted again. The blackberries are in their permanent home, so that's a different matter. Will mentioned maybe hiring somebody to do this, but I figured I'd give it a shot. yea. I tell you, though, it's a pleasant little fantasy, the thought of one or two (or even three) more people helping with this craziness. For now, we'll just push ahead through the hot part of the summer. Some flats of tomatoes and peppers have been started for fall, and if you really try, you can look at them and imagine the cooler weather somewhere down the road.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The $64 Tomato...

Will always joked that, by the time you actually pick a tomato, it probably costs about $60, what with seed and labor and whatnot. Not that you'd actually NOT plant tomatoes just because of that trifle of a statistic. But it's fairly accurate. Wouldn't you know, I was in the bookstore looking for Barbara Kingsolver's new book 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' (buy it, read it) and stumbled upon a book called 'The $64 Tomato' which speaks of this very thing. It's a light-hearted kind of 'B' book, and a quick read. The only problem is, the guy who talks about his gardening in writing this book doesn't really do much of the gardening. But he sure hires a lot of people to do a lot of stuff. Yes, he breaks a sweat, but I am here to tell you that if anybody really understands the concept of the $64 tomato, it's Will. And here it is...the object of this book. The Brandywine Tomato.

On to other happenings this week in the Land of Plenty. We robbed the hives and spun out the honey (my goodness but that's a lot of work). We have around 7 gallons of honey , or about 30 pints...and guess what there's more out there. But we'll have to recover from this episode first. I have a friend who also just finished the Kingsolver book, and now has decided that her son (age 4) needs to know as much as possible about growing food etc., which would include the honey experience. So she wants to be here in a week or so when we do the next round. bravo. Now that we've done this twice, we're feeling like old hands, although I'm sure there will be surprises in the future. And, by the way, if anybody out there knows to to separate the hood from the body of a bee suit, let me know. It is a zipper puzzle, not solved yet, although I've shown it to several women who sew, and would normally know how to figure this out. The thing can really get rank, and one go-round of washing it in the bathtub is enough for me.
Once the beans had come and gone, and the garden turned into a jungle, I really felt that the garden was winding down for the summer. But no! Even though you have to wade through the weeds and swat at all sorts of things, there plenty of late summer stuff out there. Evidenced by Will's haul of yesterday. I should be glad, because I do want to have more than just watermelons. They are late, but when they come in, it will be crazy. For the weekend:
And this is why my postings have been few and far between lately....but, as they say, it's all good.

About Our CSA

We are entering the sixth season of our CSA (Community Support Agriculture). What began as an experiment for the creative marketing of our produce has developed into a fulfilling experience for us and our members, one that we so look forward to each year. What you will find below is an explanation of how we operate the CSA, the cost, length of season, expected commitment, etc. We ask that you read it carefully before responding. We have dedicated members that stay on year after year, but for a number of folks, it is challenging to come out every Saturday for nine weeks running and to have time to participate. For those who love the quality of the vegetables, herbs, and flowers – and who like the experience of planting, harvesting, and interacting with others who have the same likes, it is a very rewarding experience. Please read on…

What is Community Supported Agriculture? (CSA)

Community supported agriculture is a movement that got its start in this country in the mid-1980’s, driven by a desire by neighborhood groups to re-connect with local growers and producers. The CSA movement is enjoying increasing popularity and availability with each passing year. The goal of CSA is to involve the vegetable-eating-public more intimately with “their” farm. Why do I use “their” in that description? Because in CSA, members buy a share of the farm which, in effect, provides them an ownership stake in the vegetables produced. In that respect, the farmer and consumer become partners. There are many benefits from this relationship to the farmer and consumer alike. For the farmer, it provides a guarantee of sales so he can plant to supply his contract. It also minimizes the time required to market the produce, freeing him up for what he does best, which is…farm. For the consumer, it guarantees a steady supply of farm fresh produce for a fixed price, encouraging healthy eating, and promoting a sense of participation and community around the farm that has been long lost in the age of industrial agriculture. For both the farmer and consumer, it promotes a bond based on trust and mutual interest. For those interested in information on CSA and farms that have set up these systems, the web has worlds of information available with a simple word search.

Why did Port Hudson Organics decided to become Port Hudson CSA?

For most of you who have spent any time visiting our farm and talking with us, you are aware that Thais and I both work full time, maintaining our little farm, bee hives, yard, and other farm-related activities in our “spare” time. This means that virtually every waking hour that we are not at work you would find us in the field or manning the produce tent (or carport). As we expanded our farm-related enterprises to areas such as biodiesel, berries and bee hives, the farm demands finally exceeded our available time. So in 2009, in order to continue our farm sustainability effort and reduce our time commitment (primarily the time spent selling), we tried a concept that is becoming increasingly popular across the country in the “Eat fresh, Eat local” movement, that is, the CSA farm. In the spring of 2009, we enrolled (what ended up to be) 25 CSA member families, and were blown-away by the success of the venture. Member enthusiasm, assistance, and clear appreciation for the unsurpassed quality of our produce resulted in an excellent experience for everyone involved. Since then, we have expanded our enrollment to approximately 40 member families, which is a comfortable carrying capacity of our one acre garden. At this point in our lives, with regular jobs and other commitments, we have no plans to expand further.

What kind of vegetables are grown and how are they distributed?

We grow a wide variety of Spring and Summer vegetables (generally about 20 different varieties). At any time during the season, you can expect around 12-15 different offerings, and 6-8 culinary herbs. We also grow cut flowers, usually zinnias and sunflowers. Each week members will receive a selection list by email. Members then make 7 selections of vegetables and 2 selections of herbs from the list. Members can check off their first and second preferences and we will make every effort to supply the members with their selected items. In cases where we are short on a particular item, say, yellow squash, we will substitute another available vegetable (for example, zucchini) from member’s second choice selection if at all possible. Members are free to make notes on their list if there is a particular vegetable they do not want (for example, zucchini) and we will try to honor their request. The amounts (pounds or numbers) of vegetables or herbs per selection were based on an approximation of equal value based on the prices we have charged for these items in the past. And as last year’s members know, the amounts of produce on the list are the minimum amount you will receive. Often, when there is a surplus beyond what has been selected, we will throw in some “lagniappe”. Members should note that there are a couple of exceptions on the selection list: a bouquet of flowers, when available, counts as two selections from the herb list; similarly, watermelon, when available, counts as two selections from the vegetable list. Each week, a basket with all of your produce and herbs will be made up with your list attached. Blank lists will be available for you to fill out for the following week, as the mix of produce and herbs change with the weather.

Can I select more than one of a particular item?

Yes, if you want 6 pounds of tomatoes one week, you can simply put the number “3” next to the selection “2 lbs. tomatoes” on your sheet and pick four other vegetable selections to make a total of seven selections. If we have enough tomatoes to satisfy your request, we will provide that amount. If we are short, we will attempt to at least provide you with one selection of tomatoes and make up the rest of your basket with other choices. We will let members know each week which vegetables we expect to have in abundance. For example, due to space considerations, we have limited plantings of corn and each planting is generally available for only one Saturday, so we will be encouraging members to select as much corn as they can from the list on the weeks that corn becomes available (we try to send out weekly emails on the state of the farm). Of course, members will also be given preference for the purchase of additional vegetables if, for example, you want to freeze a bushel of corn when it comes in and there is surplus available.

How will the CSA Baskets be distributed?

Members choose to come to the farm either Friday evening or Saturday morning each week during the season. Once you arrive, you can choose from a variety of garden activities in progress and lend a hand. This can range from planting and/or picking vegetables; washing, weighing, and bundling produce; cutting and arranging flowers; cutting and separating herbs to order; helping to pack baskets with weekly selections; sitting under a tree with other members and stripping beans off of plants. Occasionally there is a bigger project at hand, such as erecting the cucumber fence or helping to mulch rows with hay. There will be weeks when you are not able to help due to your schedule, but we find that most of our members help out almost every week. The process takes about an hour, and when you leave you bring your weekly basket with you. Many find this outdoor activity in the garden a respite from their work week in an office!

Members are asked to pick up their CSA baskets each Saturday by 10:00 AM. This is probably the biggest commitment you will make as part of the CSA. We understand that it may be difficult to come every Saturday for 9 weeks, but there are a couple of strategies you can employ to make this easier. (1) you can buddy-up with one or more members in your area and go on alternate Saturdays, each delivering or holding the other’s basket for pick up at their house; (2) you can send a family member or close friend; or (3) you can come Friday afternoon to help with the harvest and bring your basket home with you then (we had a lot of members take this option, as we do a lot of harvesting on Friday in advance of the Saturday bedlam).

What if you have a crop failure or natural disaster?

A CSA is a partnership between the farmer and the consumer, and within this partnership is an understanding of shared risk. That said, we do not expect members to bear the full cost of a catastrophic failure, nor have we ever experienced a completely failed season. Should the worst happen, members will be reimbursed a portion of their investment and we will do all in our power to make it right with members through a combination of refunds and discounts on following seasons.

What time commitment is asked as part of the CSA?

CSAs, by definition, include member support. Each week, literally hundreds of pounds of produce must be harvested, hundreds of bunches of herbs must be clipped and tied, and dozens of flower bouquets must be picked. Without member support, this is logistically impossible for part time farmers. Hence, we ask members to commit to help in some fashion (picking, sorting, filling orders, etc) according to their abilities every other weekend or so (we are not rigid on this). We have found that members enjoy becoming involved in the process. Learning about how food is grown and harvested is an uplifting and educational experience. After all, that is why we do it. And it is an integral part of CSA farms across the country. We are assuming that you found us because you appreciate this connection, and we hope that you can find the small amount of time to required to experience that connection.

What is the cost?

Cost of the CSA membership is $350. This covers 9 weeks of farm fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers of your choice. This comes out to about $38 per week, probably more than you would pay at the grocery store for conventionally-grown produce, but less than you would pay for organic produce at Whole Foods. The quality of the produce, however, cannot be approached by any supermarket, and the experience is priceless. Also, membership in the CSA includes a pint of our farm honey when it becomes available.

In Summary

So that about covers it. If you want to experience first hand the pleasures of seeing, smelling, picking and eating truly wholesome food, please respond quickly to this email. We would appreciate some information on you and your family, and why you want to join the CSA. We will let you know within a few days, and will ask for payment at that time. We ask that you understand that we have about twice as many families on the waiting list as we have openings. However, if you do not make in into the CSA this year, we will give you first shot at joining next year if you are still interested.

Thank you so much for your interest in our little farm. We hope to see you this spring.

Will & Thais Perkins

Port Hudson Organics CSA