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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Master Gardener Checks In

and essay on 'corn' and the thinning thereof: time to stop for a moment and listen to Will;

My back surveys the situation. Eight 80-foot rows of calf high corn; four have been thinned already – four remain. The sun is already high and the sweat has been rolling into my eyes for the last hour or so. Best get this done and over with so I can fertilize and hill. The optimal spacing for sweet corn is about 10 inches. This late in the season, I thin from 10 to 12 inches in case water is in short supply, which means that for every 5 plants, four will die. I would love to be able to plant one seed every foot, but one cannot predict the vicissitudes of germination, so we plant every two inches or so and thin the plants. It becomes a game. One tries to thin out the weaker plants and leave the strong at the proper spacing, but best not to over think the situation or it will never get done. You often just have to take out that outstanding plant in the interest of proper spacing, apologizing under your breath for the tragedy. No spreading of your leaves in the nurturing sun or dusting pollen to your awaiting ears… But the corn can’t hear you; it doesn’t yet have ears.
I endlessly repeat the grade school P.E exercise “touch your toe, touch your toe”. You would think your back would develop the strength of Atlas and I guess it might if you did this every day, but the activity is seasonal and infrequent. Like building a house, once your back and legs are accustomed to stooping down on the floor, you employ a different set of muscles to install the ceiling. Fortunately, it is only four more rows. I can remember the 400-foot rows I worked at the Isabel farm. One of those would be longer than these remaining four combined. And I usually planted 10 rows at a time. On those green ribbons, it was always best not to look up; just keep going until you could sense that you were near the end. I was much younger then, but had the same problem straightening up afterwards as I do now. My mind wanders back to that time with the rhythm of pull, pull, pull, and the occasional snap of a plant breaking off instead of pulling out. As the broken plants separate, they make a squeaky sound like that when you rub your teeth quickly with your finger. There is also a unique smell that is sweet and rich. In the course of thinning, I also pull the taller weeds that the disk hillers will not completely cover, and try not to be obsessive about the weeds or the spacing. The corn doesn’t care, but what if the agriculture agent visits, “I can see you got off a little there (tape measure in hand). Yep, just what I thought, this one here is only eight inches and that one is twelve and a half. And you call yourself a farmer?” My face reddens in imaginary shame. But even the Ag. agent will not notice when it all becomes a sea of green and yellow.

Such is Life...

We came to the conclusion long ago that there were three indispensible vegetables (as far as customers are concerned). In no particular order, they are: tomatoes, corn, and watermelons.
In any given year, your corn could get blown over or the deer could ge
t in and kick around your melons or the aphids and squash bugs could overcome your get the idea. The jury is out on the melons so far, because they're just starting to run (crawl along the ground) and set melons - they look good so far, but you never know. The tomato season has been really fine, but they pretty much all set at once, so we are over-run with tomatoes (that's not a bad thing, though). The corn, on the other hand, has been interesting. Will works so hard to plant, thin, hill, etc. etc. and the corn, as you have seen here, has been quite beautiful.You know, the critters can tell you exactly when the corn is ready. Because they start to get into it. And the battle begins. This year you would be amused at our efforts because they were, well-amusing. But necessary. We were trying to protect this crop for about five or six days, until the weekend (because Saturday is our big selling day around here). So...the raccons made themsleves known first. They come in from the far side; pull down a stalk - take a bite from an ear - pull down another stalk. Pretty big damage in a short time if you're not watching. So - Will wrapped the whole patch in electric fencing. It's a long story, but it got done and he stopped that monkey business:
Then the blackbirds come in from above. I'm sure you remember the Big Plastic Owl who sat watch on the dock in the winter and early spring. Well, his original purpose was to lord over the corn wen the time came. So up he went.And you remember the Osprey - the Kite Bird - also for pond protection - but, for good measure, Will put him out there too, although I wasn't able to get a decent picture - you can just visualize.
An army of measures and only for a few days...Alas - a wierd thing happened to the corn. DOn't get me wrong. We got corn...and some of it was beautiful. But as we inched towards the weekend, the ears started to shrivel up on the ends and the shriveled business began to creep down the is quite strange and we are not at all sure what it is all about. We've had many, many seasons of corn and have never seen this before. Maybe not enough water at the right time...but that doesn't quite fit the picture. There was enough water. who knows? We probably lost 50% of what was out there to this strange phenomenon. Maybe Will has some new ideas about it, I don't know. Our customers through the week and through Saturday got all they wanted, I think. But there would have been much much more. Oh well, that's the way it goes. This year, we have yet another patch of corn right behind this one, so for the first time I can remember, we'll have two crops this summer. We'll see what happens with crop #2. I guess what we always want is so much of something so good that you just don't care anymore and you can wait until next year to taste it again. That didn't happen with the corn. But it is close to happening with tomatoes, I can tell you.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

First Day and an Embarrassment of Tomatoes

I told everyone we'd open at 8:30...this is about ten minutes later! We had a rush on produce. There were people the blackberries - at the table, in the garden. Fabulous. And this went on pretty much all day. A great start to our season...lots of happy folks (and cute kids).
We thought we'd maybe not open today, because we were sold out of everything except tomatoes...Will comes in this morning and says....There's at least two wheelbarrows of tomatoes out there...put out the sign! hmmm....I did send an update to our customers but it's been slow this Father's Day. They'll keep - but in the meantime, look what up in the carport...
and the driveway...not to mention there's a big pot of cut up tomatoes on the stove - the ones that had dings and little bites on them...sauce...yum.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Open This Weekend

Long time coming; but we're there.
Put out a few signs in the front: Squash, Tomatoes, Flowers, Herbs.
I would like to comment - it seems people can't find tomatoes at ANY price!
But here we are, with a nice crop. Lots of folks have been waiting for the signs it they came up the driveway kind of all day. It feels familiar and you do meet the nicest people - kind of like going to the garden center. You know, bad tempered people just don't hang out at the Garden Center...tomorrow will be very busy - picking etc. We haven't had air-conditioning since last Sunday - long story and I don't want to whine about it...but one must temper one's activities accordingly - so wish me well - it's possible this may be resolved by Friday afternoon. In the meantime. I'll be up at 5:30 a.m. and out in the garden by 6 if I'm disciplined.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Nearing Normal

Seems like it's been a long time coming...but the garden finally, finally looks like a garden. Thanks to no rain for a bit, and hard work by all (but, I must admit, mostly Will, because he does all the heavy lifting, so to speak).We were feeling like maybe we should just hang it up for the summer garden - wait till fall planting - that would be soon enough anyway. And then the rains stopped, and then Buffy showed up to help every few days and with a lot of time and sweat, the garden took shape. And now, we're on the verge of opening things up to our customers. A couple called yesterday; they had gone to a blueberry farm but it was closed (on a Sunday??) and they asked if we had Blackberries? well, yes...some..uh...sure, come on over. I showed them where the blackberry row is, gave them hats and rags (for the sweat, you know) and bowls. I rummaged around and got the scale, the money box, the bags, the basket for weighing, the berry baskets. I checked the fridge to assess what I had picked that morning; yellow squash, basil...when it was all said and done, it was a good feeling, because it was so familiar. My.Summer.Has.Arrived.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Wrested from the tall, tall weeds...

A pretty good garlic haul this year. These are maybe the finest bulbs we've harvested in a long. long time. Late last evening and early this morning (as a side-note, I want to say that it's so much easier in the morning when everything is wet with dew), wading through amazingly tall grass that had sprung up seemingly's a good thing that garlic sends up very tall shoots with a big purple ball of a flower on top; otherwise, finding them would have been much harder. So that was kind of messy and nasty (and hot). And a bit creepy. But now Will can mow down the whole mess and pull up more new rows to plant.
So that's the end of 'things planted in November to harvest in the spring'. Not that it's spring anymore.
The garden moves along at breakneck speed this time of year. I noticed that the lettuce has decided to spring into action, but that probably was the fertilizer I put on it last week. Looks like we'll be having much of our produce come in all at once, which will be nice for a change.
Back to work...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ok FTD.....Beat This!

...a gathering of flowers from here and there around our little farmActually, Will picked these for me for our 34th anniversary this past weekend...and - as I always remind him; he may very well have missed his calling (floral arranging wasn't exactly on his list, but he does have talent in that area as you can see!). Gladiolas, lilies, wild sunflowers and yarrow blossoms...I would rather have this than 50 dozen roses! When we were very young, he would always find flowers to pick for me and once even climbed a big magnolia tree to get just the perfect flower.

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