It’s not too late to respond to your survey! If you were a CSA member in 2013, and you’d like to give us your feedback, please do so here. (If the buttons on the survey aren’t working, read our instructions at the top of the survey to adjust your web browser.) I've postponed the deadline to January 2, 2014.
If you would like to see the results of the survey so far, you can find them here.
And if you’d like to look at some of the data about which crops performed best, and how many weeks they were in the share, look at our last blog post here.
Let me begin with a few of my own observations, then I’ll mention some of your notable survey responses, and reply to some of your questions.
I think this was a super year. The weather was especially forgiving. For the first year in a long time, we didn’t have any extended periods of too much or too little rain. It was cooler, later in the spring than normal, which delayed many of our favorite summer crops. But once they kicked in, we felt lucky.
Some of my highlights:
We harvested 18,827 pounds of tomatoes. And I’m sure there were at least a thousand more that you all picked for yourselves. Everyone who has some of our tomatoes in your pantries and freezers should imagine one of your great great grandmothers patting you on the back right now.
Potatoes were another winner: 12,724 pounds. In your surveys, about the same number of people commented that you wanted more potatoes as those who wanted fewer, which I found surprising. I thought for sure I would get a hundred comments from members still trying to shovel their way out from under the pile of potatoes spilling out of the drawers in your kitchens.
We pulled 17,959 pounds of garlic bulbs out of the ground this year. By hand. It all happened over just a few days. I have a vivid memory of throwing the last bulbs onto a heaping wagon as heavy rain started to fall and lightning struck nearby. Get the wagon in the barn! Get the children into the truck! The volunteer group from Elysian Energy deserves a special medal of honor for pushing themselves past the point of exhaustion to help us finish that day.
Once the garlic was dried and trimmed, it probably only weighed about 5000 pounds. We saved about half of it for planting, which we just did in November. That was about 24,000 bulbs, planted one clove at a time. By hand.
We donated 35,964 pounds of produce this year to agencies serving the homeless and others in need. A staff person from Horton’s Kids told us a particularly funny story of preparing a salad from our produce with a bunch of kids. They asked her what this word “salad” is, and how it’s spelled. And after they ate it, they were so excited, they ran around the housing project offering people salads. “It’s better than Cheetos!”
A friend from SHABACH described a pilot project they have initiated because of the produce they get from our farm. They selected 50 low-income senior citizens with high blood pressure who are the heads of their households. SHABACH combines the seniors’ produce pick-up with cooking demonstrations from a nutritionist and check-ups from a nurse, both of whom also make home visits. After several months the seniors had lower blood pressure, better overall health and diets, and were passing those good habits to the others in their families.
The things that stressed me out the most:
First, lets all play a mournful tune for the asparagus and rhubarb. Both crops have spent 2013 shrivelling up and dissolving into the ground. They are both perennials that we planted about a dozen years ago. So it could be argued that both were getting old and needed to be replanted with new crowns. We planted new rhubarb crowns this past March and the plants grew well for a while. But we're thinking perhaps the location was a little too boggy, and at some point in the summer they were dead as doorknobs. So now we're on the lookout for somewhere new to put them that has "good drainage but consistent moisture," which seems a little picky if you ask me. We've built up the soil for our new asparagus plot, so it should have lots of rich organic matter to work with for the next dozen years. The worst part of this story is that it takes 3 years to establish both new crops before we can start harvesting them again.
Most of the rest of our problems this year can be blamed on animal damage. (Or on me for not preventing the animal damage? Or on civilization for moving into animal territory?) Fortunately for us, we did not have the skunk invasion of 2012. But the deer stopped fearing our electric fences, and it felt like the groundhog population tripled.
In the spring, groundhogs and mice kept sneaking into the greenhouse and eating the seedlings. We were able to re-seed most of them, and I don’t think it affected your summer shares too much, but it was discouraging. We tried every manner of trap and repellent (including a plastic owl). The lowest point was when we caught some skinks on a glue trap. Skinks are a lovely type of lizard that I believe were eating bugs, so they were the one animal resident I was benefitting from.
We plant a second round of seedlings in summer for harvest in fall. We thought we had walled off the groundhogs from the seedlings, but one found a way to bust in when the plants were nearly ready to plant in the ground. It ate everything, and it was too late to re-plant. It was also too late to order organic seedlings from someone else. That’s why you didn’t see any broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or chard this fall, and why we had much less kale and collards than we wanted.
We also lost most of our late summer plantings of lettuce, spinach, carrots, and mixed greens. By then we had purchased the motion-sensitive camera and adopted two dogs, all of which helped us locate at least 3 groundhog burrows we hadn’t seen, in addition to the two we had seen. The field was surrounded on all sides by groundhog families, and visited regularly by deer. So the electric fence was useless. We replanted it all in the field behind my house (more attention from people and dogs) and surrounded it with a tall mesh fence. In the end, the quickest-growing greens, radishes and turnips made out OK. But the carrots and spinach were too delayed and didn’t size up enough. And a few deer still made it inside long enough to eat the lettuce.
Winter squash and sweet potatoes were two crops that were also hit hard by animals. We managed to get a week’s worth from each of those crops, which was about a fifth of what I think we could have harvested if we didn’t have deer.
We’ve just purchased about $5000 of 8-foot tall deer fencing. That should be enough to surround the sweet potatoes, corn, lettuce, carrots, kale, one succession of beans, and either the winter squash or melons. If there’s no drought, I think the deer will favor the clover over most of the other crops.
We also surrounded the greenhouse with a 3-foot tall fence of chicken wire (to prevent groundhogs). And I have a new mouse trap that works like a champ (it’s called ‘the Tin Cat’). So I have my fingers crossed for 2014.
Some survey results so far:
(Remember, you can still add your own responses to the survey. In the meantime, this is what we’ve heard.)
86% of you are enthusiastically glad you bought a share from us this year. (13% are mostly glad, and one of you is mostly not glad.) And the large majority of you range between very and somewhat satisfied with the amounts, variety and quality of the produce. For those of you with hesitations about the quantity of produce, it seemed to help that you had an option to pick your own produce to supplement, and that you could take a double share and come half as often.
The crops that you wanted more of were:
- 1. Mushrooms, Asparagus (both got 53 votes)
- 3. Winter Squash (51)
- 4. Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, Broccoli (47)
- 7. Strawberries, Peas (41)
- 9. Beets (40)
- 10. Ripe Tomatoes, Bulb Onions and Cucumbers (38)
Strawberries were the only crop that is unanimously loved--it garnered only "more" votes, and no "less" votes. The crop that people wanted least was turnips, which got 25 votes for "less" and only 9 votes for "more".
My answers to some of your questions and comments:
"Are the less crazily-shaped potatoes sent to the farmers’ market?"
No. We don’t attend any farmers’ markets. We sold about 1000 pounds of garlic this year (mostly to MOM’s Organic Market), but did not sell any potatoes. We donated thousands of pounds of potatoes to agencies, but gave them similarly-shaped potatoes as your own. This leads me to wonder, what happens to all the crazily-shaped potatoes from conventional farms that don’t end up in the supermarket? Fed to hogs? Left in the field?
"On potatoes, would you please plant more than one variety?"
Years ago, when I had a much harder time getting good potato yields, I tried dozens of different varieties. Sangre (the one we grow now) always yielded the best for us, hands down. Since the other varieties did not seem to garner much greater praise for flavor, we decided to hone in on the one that we grow well. I’ve already ordered potato seed for 2014 (we place that order just before Thanksgiving), so you’ll get only Sangre next year. But if our yields stay high, perhaps we’ll go back to trying one or two more varieties in 2015.
"Cherry tomatoes make excellent ingredients in the salads without having to chop them, didn't see any of them, but the variety of tomatoes was incredible this year."
Cherry tomatoes take a prohibitively long time to harvest, so we put them all in the you-pick tomato field (this year it was C1, which is in front of the office).
"I wish there were more varieties of peppers, potatoes, and corn, but the variety of tomatoes was fantastic."
I am glad to get any corn, considering how vulnerable it is to caterpillars, weeds, drought, raccoons, deer, groundhogs, skunks, and who knows what else. Most years I grow 4 varieties, which is about all I have space for. I need a minimum of 4 rows per variety so that they pollinate sufficiently. I choose the 4 varieties based on maturity date, so that I can plant them all at once and spread their harvest over several weeks. Then I plant a second succession of those same varieties about a month later.
As for peppers, we grew 5 varieties of peppers that are sweet when ripe, and lots of hot chiles. There is a cost to growing too many varieties—I have to keep track of them separately from seedling all the way to the labeled basket you see at the pick-up. And more varieties can lead to higher seed cost. So a new variety has to add something to the collection in terms of performance, flavor or appearance that makes it worth the trouble. With chiles and tomatoes, the variations are wider, and more alluring. With sweet peppers, I don’t see as many differences in what is available, and for many of the varieties I have trialed over the years, I haven’t repeated them because the yield was too low and the appeal to customers was not particularly high (such as with cheese peppers).
"Please ask folks to bag produce before weighing; otherwise on busy days, scales are monopolized by people going back and forth adding small amounts until reaching the share limit."
Indeed! I think perhaps some polite signs are in order. Duly noted.
"I know that you've had trouble getting signs in the U-pick areas. How about little chalkboards on wooden stakes? Then you could use them repeatedly, they wouldn't get soggy and could probably be made relatively easily."
I think the writing on a chalkboard would wash off in the rain. But I like the creative thinking. We’ve made a few steps in the right direction, I believe. We have little red signs in the fields, which we hope to use a little more consistently next year. And we began making wooden signs to label each field.
"I did not understand the U-Pick map."
The map can be confusing because it doesn’t give a sense of varying terrain. The wooden signs should help orient people on the map so they know if they are going the right way. Anyone have access to a 3D printer? I think it would be really neat to have topographical replica of the farm at the washing station.
"Could there (or is there) an on-line farm map that we can print and keep ourselves - to find u-pick fields?"
Wish granted: Download Clagett Farm Field Map.
"Also - I know it takes someone to do it - but the cut flowers are beautiful - I just don't know there names - any chance of getting them posted on-line or labeled better?"
I can’t say it will be our top priority, but we’ll try.
"We loved cutting flowers but of we arrived later they were gone. If there is any unused land maybe more flowers could be planted."
I do usually toss some flower seed in various places on the farm. For example, I planted sunflowers three times this year, but they were always eaten by deer. Sunflower sprouts are delicious! Other flowers sometimes come up, and sometimes get out-competed by weeds. There was a row of zinnias that bloomed in late summer near the tomatillos and the celery. But I think most people didn’t see them.
"Any chance of partnering with someone to have fresh eggs available for purchase if it's not too much of a logistical issue?"
I would be willing to consider it. We are not legally permitted to sell anything at the Dupont pick-up. (If you’re thinking about the honey right now, just keep mum.) But if we’re willing to give up the space in the cooler, we could do it at the farm. At the moment, I do not know a local farmer who wishes to sell eggs through us. I’m guessing we’d sell about 15 dozen per week, which is probably not worth the trouble for everyone involved.
"The plastic bags you guys had ripped very easily. I usually brought my own, but if I forgot mine, the ones you had would not hold anything."
We began the year using up some leftover biodegradable bags that we purchased in 2012. Time was not kind to them, and you’re correct—they ripped way too easily. By mid-season, we purchased some petroleum-based plastic bags that were about one tenth the price of the biodegradable ones and didn’t rip. Definitely the best option is still bringing your own bags. If we find a cheaper source of biodegradable bags, we’ll switch back, and use them up before they degrade on the roll.
Thanks for a great year, everyone. We make a wonderful community, you and I. You inspire me to work hard, enjoy myself, and do a better job of taking care of this land and all the people (and critters) who share our food. Remember that a just sharing of world resources, through our farm, and the other generous, thoughtful things you do, is helping bring a more peaceful world. Have a wonderful, happy new year.