Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Every New Season Brings a New Set of Challenges

CSA farming is many things: An art, a science, a weight training program.

It's also a service profession.

We provide a human need, food, to our members. They provide a cultural need, money, to us.

And, as with any service, the service we provide comes with a set of expectations on the part of our customers and an ever changing set of challenges for us. The trick is for us to face the challenges in a way that allows us to continue to meet the expectations of our customers.

Doesn't that sound simple?

We have been doing this for a while now. We started by working/volunteering at a student run CSA farm in college. We then spent a season at a massive (compared to ours) CSA outside of Grand Rapids. Once we bought our own property, we grew on it for two seasons before we started offering CSA memberships in 2009. When we did start the CSA, we started small and expanded only when we were confident that we could handle the additional members.

Basically, we went slowly to ensure that we learned to meet as many challenges as possible before we built a community of members that depended on us.

One of the (many) things we learned is that every season - no matter what we do - brings unpredictable new challenges that we have to meet on the fly. So, CSA farming is also a bit of an improvisation.

During the 2011 CSA season, the power to our house wasn't working correctly for over a month (the repair guy was waiting for a part.) and we had to buy a generator to run our well pump.

In 2012 spring came unusually early, allowing a massive increase in the local population of herbivorous caterpillars, especially on the tomato plants in our hoophouse.

And now it's this year. This year spring was late. About two weeks late.

This shows our field on April 14th.
When we're normally just about ready to start plowing.
Remember this?

It was April 19th.
The last recorded snowfall this year was May 11th. Just less than two weeks after we normally begin to plant our earliest crops out in the field.

And things are still two weeks behind.
The head lettuce is only just getting over its
transplant stress and putting on new growth.
The kale and parsley, which we rely on for harvest all season long, are
ahead of the lettuce, but they're not strong enough to start picking.
Even the early hoophouse kohlrabi
and beets are a couple weeks behind.
And if the growing is two weeks behind, that means we ourselves are also two weeks behind. So, although we have already seeded and transplanted a LOT of things this season...

Like onions, celeriac, brussels sprouts, rutabaga, kale,
radishes, mizuna, peas, favas, dandelion, orach, lettuce...
we still have a lot more to go.

And it's easy, especially on a warm and sunny day like today, to think that we must have done something wrong. We get nervous and imagine that we neglected something or just weren't clever enough to get things growing "on time".

But it isn't just us.

A daisy along the path to the big garden, just starting to open - about
two weeks after we usually see them.
Even the weeds are slower this year.

And the local strawberry farmer (Shout out to A-1 Strawberry Farms!!!) says that harvest won't begin until "well into July" this year. I don't know if that's two weeks behind, but it's certainly later than usual.

So, we need to accept that we are on schedule for this year. We work with whatever the weather presents us with - and this year presented us with a snow covered field into the second week of May. That's that.

The only way for us to meet this challenge is to let our members know that CSA pick-up will begin later than we had planned for this year. We need to push it back even a little further than we originally thought, making first pick-up July 3rd this year - about two weeks later than average.

And we'll keep striving to meet our customer's expectations.

Friday, June 7, 2013


I believe I have mentioned our struggles with flea beetles before.

And I know that our customers have seen the damage they can do to our crops and understand our need to fight them.

This is what flea beetles do.

Unfortunately, it seems that everything we try is only partially effective. But today, we tried something new.

Nematodes. Specifically, 50 million Steinernema feltiae, soil dwelling parasitic nematodes that attack only insects. Mostly, they only go after the pests - like flea beetles, thrips, and fungus gnats - and leave the beneficial insects alone.

Click here if you want to see where we bought them.

This is what 50 million nematodes look like.

When you get them in the mail, you can't actually see them. All you see is a small package of "inert powder".

So, of course, we had to check and make sure they were really there.

They were.

Then we mixed some of them with water, did a test squirt through our sprayer, and checked under the microscope again to make sure they were still there.

They certainly were.

Finally, I went to the greenhouse and sprayed all the starts that flea beetles find especially tasty, such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Tomorrow I plan to spread some in the field on the flea beetle hosts that we have already planted.

You can't see them, but I assure you they're now here too.

Hopefully, they will keep our flea beetle population under control this year. Cross your fingers with us!