Survey time! Also, a harvest chart to help you remember the season.

We'd love to hear your feedback about the 2016 season.  Did you enjoy being a member?  Is there anything you wanted more or less of?  Speak now, before we buy seeds for 2017!

Respond to our survey HERE

Also, we've created a handy chart that you can check out to see what you got in your shares each week this year: Download 2016 Clagett Farm CSA Harvest Chart

You'll notice that we struggled quite a bit before August.  It was a cold, wet spring.  So the shares were smaller than normal when we started in May, and again in July when our summer crops (such as squash, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) should have kicked in.  But our overall pounds harvested this year (72,835 lbs) came back up to average for us because we had some bumper crops of sweet potatoes and winter squash in the fall.  

Photograph by Jared Planz, June 2016.

2015 Year in Review

Thanks to everyone who responded to our member survey! If you’d like to read my highlights of the survey results, as well as my own thoughts on the season, read on. If you prefer to go straight to the raw data, you can link to it HERE.

First, I’ll begin with some items that impressed me. Overall, the vast majority of you rated the value of your share as Excellent (46%) or Above Average (34%). Terrific! We got responses from 193 people, which is a rate of 73% of our 265 CSA members. 23% of you have been with us for 7 years or longer! I’m so glad to see that. This whole farm-supports-community-supports-farm idea works so much better when we can all get to know each other and take a long view. Plus, it’s so wonderful to see familiar, friendly faces at the pick-up. I’ve been on the farm for 18 years and a few of you have been members for even longer than that!

I also want to give a shout-out to the 41% of you who are gardeners. That’s spectacular. That gives you a chance to grow the things that you love most and we don’t offer quite enough of. Carrots, for example—there’s an easy crop to grow in a small space, a little bit of shade is no problem, they can tolerate a wide range of fertility, and they are a giant pain for me to grow (literally a pain; carrots require a lot of squatting and weeding). This year I turn 40! Let’s try to preserve these knees for old age. The other thing I love about having gardeners for customers, is that you are very forgiving. We all have a few crop failures under our belts, and it’s good to commiserate.

And you should congratulate yourself that we were able to donate 29,759 pounds of produce to agencies that prepare food or give groceries to people in need (in addition to a myriad of other critical services). Add that to the 15 shares we sold at half-price to low-income families, and it brings us to a total of 47% of our produce distributed to people who needed it most. Can you say that about anyone else you buy your groceries from? Of course not. Thank you for helping make that happen.

Now let’s get to some Q&A. Many of you posed questions or left comments that I would like to answer directly (in almost completely random order).

“This wasn't the best growing season, which was reflected in quantity and variety of produce.”
Indeed. You can see from these data, below, that 2014 was above average for us, and 2015 was well below average.


  2015 2014 2010-2014 average
Total weight harvested (pounds) 67,982 91,235 80,084
Average pounds/week/share 5.59 7.98 7.14

The biggest difference between this year and last was the weather (the staff were almost entirely the same, and most of our crop plans do not change significantly). In 2014, the rain was pretty consistent, and in 2015 we had a summer with almost no appreciable rain. That hits us especially hard because we have so little water to irrigate with. We were able to keep crops alive, but didn’t have enough water to get a good yield. And to exacerbate the problem, the deer pressure is worse in a drought because the pastures are less appealing than any crops we’re watering. Our best solution to this is to invest in another well with a larger pump, but this is a huge capital expense, and we have quite a few hurdles to jump before we can get there. Fortunately, this rough year was terrifically motivating.

A number of you mentioned the lack of peppers and eggplant, and indeed, those are two crops that did quite well in 2014 and exceptionally badly in 2015. Two other big hits were potatoes (spring too cold and wet) and okra (deer). Two crops that did a lot better this year were, not surprisingly, in the fall--sweet potatoes (the fence kept the deer they went to the okra), and turnips. Now, I’m a big fan of sweet, fall Hakurei turnips, but if I have to choose one crop to do especially well when the others are suffering, I would not have chosen turnips. C’est la vie.

But the real bread-winner for us is tomatoes. Fortunately, we planted more tomatoes in 2015 than we did the year prior, so even though the yield fell, we still had an abundant crop. Phew!

I get excited about spreadsheets, so if you want to see a layout of the pounds, acres and yield of all 43 of our crops this year, you can see it all laid out HERE as a Google sheet or HERE as an Excel document. Also, we made a list HERE as a Google Doc and HERE as a pdf of what we offered in your CSA shares each week, in case you'd like a refresher.

Many of you noted that you love to you-pick, and wished there were more opportunities. In fact, 77% of you picked your own vegetables, herbs, fruits and/or flowers this season, which is wonderful. Nonetheless, when there isn’t much to harvest, we pick as much as we can to put in your share for you. So this year, you’re right, there was less to you-pick. But I am glad to hear how much you value you the option, and I’ll redouble my efforts next year to make that available as much as possible.

“Next year I am hoping that the strawberry fields are a little more organized.” Leave a strawberry plant to its own devices, and it will spread new plants in every direction, like a carpet. Last year, I just didn't have the heart to kill off the plants in the aisles, and as a consequence, we walked on many of them. I'm not sure that it had any real impact on the total number of berries that made it into your mouths, but I concede it was sad to see crushed berries, and harder to know where to walk. For your crop this coming spring, I've compromised, and tilled a few aisles, though there are still too few and they are too narrow. Hopefully in the spring, I'll toughen up and till in some more.

“If it is possible to improve the road to the furthers fields. It would be nice to be able to drive there instead of walking. It was very hard to get to the fields to pick cucumbers, tomatoes and beans. I had to carry a heavy bag probably whole mile up the hill. It wasn’t fun.” We just can’t afford to grade and resurface all the back roads on the farm. Every year I target some crops that I hope to have on the you-pick list, and plant them near the paved driveway (strawberries, cherry tomatoes, chiles and okra). When crops in distant fields are on the you-pick list, perhaps we can bring you out with the “Gus”--the newest, most-exciting, and orangest member of our fleet of vehicles.

“The deer fences were a great addition; did they actually work?” Yes! And no...We installed 8’ tall fences around the crops that the deer always go after--sweet potatoes, corn, melons, beans, strawberries and winter squash. Honestly, I’ve never seen deer strip okra and peppers like that before. Geez! So, we have some more fences to put up, clearly. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there.

“It was a good season, I think. In the past, you had lots of daikons. I'm guessing other patrons didn't care for them? They were great.” Yes, lone soul, you are the only one who has asked for them. And even the soup kitchen workers give us the stink eye when we hand them a large stack of daikons. But you are in luck! We use daikon radishes as a cover crop in the field where we will be planting mustards and spinach the following spring. This year the dry weather delayed the radishes, so they weren’t ready to pick until December. The sheep ate them instead of you. But next year, ask us in October or November, and we’ll send you with a digging fork to have your way with them.

“I loved the idea of fresh from the farm veg, and I enjoyed the farm once there, but it was a 45 minute drive each way and I couldn't make it all the time. I also found we still had to buy veg from the organic market, and I ended up spending quite a lot on veg this year.” Yes, I have seen a trend over the years that people who have to travel 30 minutes or more each way to get to their pick-up site are less satisfied with their share. It makes sense that for those people, the farm has to provide a much higher value for the time lost picking up the share. A few of you mentioned that a life change is making the CSA more distant or less timely, and I wholeheartedly agree that convenience is a high priority. There may be other CSAs that or farm stands that make more sense. Godspeed and good luck! I applaud everyone that chooses local, organic produce, even if it isn’t ours. No need to be a martyr.

“I'm not sure who the gentleman was who sat at the end of the display every Wednesday, but his presence was a bit unsettling.” That gentleman is Mr. Joe Brown. He has lived on the farm since he was a teenager, and spent most of his life working for the Clagett/Addison family raising tobacco. Now he is retired, and if anyone deserves to roam the farm as he pleases, it is he. Mr. Brown is not the kind of person to initiate a conversation, and I’m sure, as shy as he is, that he is not trying to make anyone uncomfortable. But he doesn’t drive, and other than his television, the farm pick-up is about as much entertainment as he gets. A dozen years ago, there was a retiree, Mr. Raymond DeVaughn (now deceased), who used to drive onto the farm and stare at us while we worked. He also used to make fun of us, which Mr. Brown almost never does. Perhaps Mr. Brown is just taking his turn. Give it another 25 years and I might be the one in the farm’s bleacher seats, awkwardly watching the season unfold around me.

“If there is a preferred list that beef shares are offered to first that the general farm membership is not a part of, it would have been helpful to know so that I could have planned my meat purchase from a different source.” Michael Heller manages the beef and lamb operation on the farm. Typically, he sells meet twice a year (around June and November). He collects e-mail addresses of people who say they would like to buy beef, and then sends a mass e-mail to that list as the sale approaches. If any of you would like to be added to that list, it’s best to contact him directly: I apologize--it sounds like we miscommunicated or didn’t relay someone’s inquiry.

“Would love to have small portions of the beef available for purchase during year. I don't eat much beef, so purchasing no more than 2 lbs at a time is more than enough.” Wish granted! We now have a freezer in the washing station for the purpose of selling meat in modest portions. I believe Michael is planning to stock the freezer beginning in June.

“I wish the Rosemary was more plentiful.” Me, too! Rosemary is a tender perennial. It overwinters in our region in a normal year (but not the coldest winters), if it’s protected from wind. They especially like growing beside a building, which moderates the temperature, so you might consider planting it in your home garden or window box. For us, we’ve had a maddening time getting it to survive the winter. The washing station is in an especially windy area. This winter, we have surrounded the rosemary with straw bales and covered it with a polyester fabric that lets in light and water, but adds a layer of protection. Will it work? I don’t know; the suspense is killing me!

“I seem to recall that the membership increased by a pretty large amount this year, which seemed excessive.” We did raise the price by $75 (it was the same regardless of payment by check or credit card--to answer another member’s question). We hadn’t increased the price of the share since 2010, so our income was not keeping up with expenses. Thankfully, there’s no need for another increase this year. I mean, except for that well we need to drill and the fences, but that’s what grants are for, right?

“While we try to eat seasonal, the fact is our kids consume a lot of broccoli and cauliflower and the shares never contain enough of these week to week (do they ever have cauli?)” Unfortunately, this is a terrible climate for broccoli and cauliflower--too hot and humid. We used to plant them in the spring for summer harvest. But in the heat, the cauliflower turns yellow and spotty, and the broccoli is small and bitter. So I gave that up a few years ago. In the fall, we were more successful with broccoli this year than we usually are (which is still mediocre). Fortunately, we seem to have gotten the knack of growing the seedlings for fall broccoli and cabbage, which has been a tough nut to crack. But cauliflower is slower-growing and didn’t head until after the share was over. Next year, I’ll probably grow twice the fall broccoli and no cauliflower, and cross my fingers. I’ll count myself lucky if we get one nice head per share. Broccoli and cauliflower are the same species as cabbage, collards, kale and kohlrabi. Perhaps you could find a way to substitute? Keep up the good work--at least your kids are eating vegetables!

“At the very end of the year, I came for a share at the farm. We missed a lot of summer pickups, so were rather liberally doing doubles when we made it on the fall. The volunteer that day said rolling pickups over was only to be used over a two week period. This was the first I've heard this, and would love clarification.” The reason you were confused, is that we had different rules for the farm and Dupont pick-ups. Specifically, Genevieve had the reins at Dupont, and preferred a more liberal policy of allowing members to take a double share for any missed share, regardless of how much time had passed. Dupont members, I heard loud and clear how much you appreciated Genevieve (naturally--she’s fantastic!) and this is just one more reason to add to your list of gratitudes.
We at the farm pick-up were a little more stingy. We’ve had a few too many occasions where we misjudged how many people would show up for their share and ended up running short at the end. So our rule at the farm pick-up is that you can take an extra share within a week before or after you’ve missed one, but after that it’s forfeited.
Next year, Jenn Garvin will be in charge at Dupont. Will she follow Genevieve’s lead? Will we change the policy at the farm? I’m not sure yet, but at least we’ll try to make it clear up front.

Allow me to put in a plug for anyone who might be interested in working a pick-up in exchange for a CSA share in 2016.  You can choose Wednesdays, 2:30-7:30pm at the farm, 4:30-8:00pm at Dupont, or Saturdays 11:30am-4:30pm at the farm.  You can work 1-4 weeks/month, according to your preference.  We need people who have a very positive attitude, can lift a 30-pound bin, and are reliable.  Spread the word!  

“I'd like to say that a few years ago there was an email that you were planting blueberry trees, so I'm surprised we haven't received any blueberry's yet. Also, where were the melons this year? I don't remember seeing any. I don't mind the low yield btw, though I missed the peppers this year, because I am 100% behind the idea of the CSA and shared risk/reward.”  Yes, we did plant about a hundred blueberry bushes, and a year later we fenced the deer out of them. And you have one very dedicated volunteer, Rick Vitek, to thank for coming to the farm on his days off all summer long to weed those plants all by his lonesome. Thank you, Rick! The plants look good but small. We’ve been diligent about irrigating, fertilizing and mulching with wood chips. The soil is not as acidic as they prefer, but plenty high in iron, which they especially crave. So we’ll wait and see. I’m hoping that they suddenly pop up to twice their current height, but I doubt you’ll see blueberries in your share in 2016. Maybe 2017?

The Asian pear trees we planted are not faring as well. Many of them have died from fire blight, which is a big problem for fruit trees in our region. It leaves me wondering if I should invest the time needed to coddle the ones that remain, or if I should focus more energy on planting something new--such as persimmons, figs or black raspberries, all of which grow successfully here and there on the farm already. But rest assured, we are definitely working on building up our fruit stocks.

“This was our first year and it was a great experience. Got to taste some new vegetables, such as kolhrabi and jerusulem artichoke!! We were unable to volunteer this year, but VERY MUCH APPRECIATE the people who work so hard to bring us this CSA. To all the ones who plant, weed, and harvest the produce-THANK YOU SO MUCH.”

“The farm is woven into our lives -- we wouldn't be without it.”

“I'm used to the vagaries of the harvest. It's the way you know it's authentic and appreciate the risks that people of the land without the safety nets we have face every day.”

You’re welcome! The feeling is completely mutual. It is hard work, and sometimes we really screw up, but we love our customers. You are a family for us, you bring us gifts and wisdom and energy and smiles, and we feel blessed to work for you.

There were a lot more comments that I didn’t respond to here, but I definitely read them all.  If we missed something you’re still curious about, or don’t think we quite got the message, leave a comment here!

Your farmer,

Take the Clagett Farm 2015 Member Survey!

Photo from CSA member Rob, who snapped a photo of this beautiful cabbage he gleaned at the farm! Thanks Rob!


It's survey time! 

Here at the end of the 2015 CSA season, we'd like to ask you for a bit of feedback, to help inform our planning for 2016. 

Will you take a few minutes to complete our short, 10 question survey? It only takes a few minutes, and will provide great value to our team as we continue to improve your CSA experience. The deadline to complete the survey is December 31, 2015. 

Thanks in advance for providing us your feedback! Have an excellent December. 

~ The Clagett Farm Team


2013 Year-End Summary

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.
Your farmer,

Wrapping Up the 2013 Season: Will You Take the Member Survey?

I hope you all have had a wonderful Thanksgiving (or Thanksgivukkah).  I spent a week puttering, baking cookies, and otherwise forgetting all about the little nagging tasks that still have to be done to finish the season (such as mulching the garlic and putting an 8-foot-tall fence around the new patch of strawberries).  It feels a little like climbing out from under a pile of sand--I feel much lighter (which is unlikely, given the cookies). 

We have a few things to mention before we say farewell to 2013:


If your family enjoys a trip to a farm to cut your own Christmas tree, go no further than your very own Clagett Farm.  We have all sizes ($40) and some lovely handmade wreaths ($30).  Weekends are best:  10am-2pm.  We have free hayrides,  marshmallows to roast, cookies, and the weather has been wonderful.  Also, my 5-year-old daughter has been making pine cone owl ornaments that she is excited to give everyone.    


CSA members, we need your feedback!  This year the survey is a mere 8 questions long.  I'm trying this new feature where you can look at everyone's responses as soon as you've submitted yours.  But that means I can't just post a link here, or who knows what kind of crazy spam we'd get.  So I've e-mailed a link to all of you.  Were your tomatoes too red?  Your radishes too spicy?  U-pick maps too confusing?  Not enough potatoes (ha ha)?  Inquiring minds want to know: 2013 Member Survey. Deadline for submitting surveys is December 31


We crunched all the harvest data, and compiled them in a few spreadsheets that you can  download here (it's in Excel format).  It will tell you how many pounds you got of each item (approximately, since you had choices), how many weeks we harvested each crop, which varieties yielded the best, and if you really like to get in the weeds, you can see our some of our notes for next year, which tomatoes were in which fields, and so on and on and on.... If you like farm data, dig in and go crazy!


That's all for now - thanks again for choosing Clagett as your CSA this year. We're pleased with the season, and are eager to hear your feedback. Enjoy your holidays!

~ Farmer Carrie 

Mustards--the over-achiever

I was just reviewing some of our yield data (pounds harvested per acre planted).  I thought you all might be amused to hear that our highest yielding crop in 2012  was Southern Giant Mustard.  Seriously.  Seems a little cruel to me, since only a couple of you actually like eating it.  Had we planted a full acre of it in August, we would have harvested 44,576 pounds.  Thank goodness we only planted 7 thousanths of an acre.  If we'd actually picked it all, the yield would have been even higher!

The next 9 varieties that gave us the highest pounds per area planted were:

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Black beauty eggplant
  • Tatsoi mustard
  • Tendergreen mustard
  • Ruby streaks mustard
  • Valley girl tomatoes
  • Tango lettuce
  • Necoras carrots

Of course this list is a little misleading.  Mustard, lettuce and carrots are planted very close together.  We can't hand-weed all our crops or we'd have to hire an army to help us.  Most other crops are spaced farther apart so we can cultivate them with tractors.  To give you a different perspective, consider yield as pounds per row-foot.  This calculation favors crops that are spaced closely in the row but far apart between rows.  Here's the new top ten:

  1. Chinese cabbage (3.2 pounds per row-foot)
  2. Roma tomato
  3. Valley girl tomato
  4. Black beauty eggplant
  5. Partenon zucchini
  6. Early jalapeno pepper
  7. H-19 little leaf cucumber
  8. Big beef tomato
  9. Garlic scallions (mixed varieties)
  10. Super red 80 cabbage

Better, huh?  You guys actually like most of those.  Maybe your New Season's Resolutions this year should be to learn how to love Chinese cabbage more--that crop grows like crazy!

Here's a link to an Excel spreadsheet of our harvest data: Download Harvest Log 2012.  I actually don't recommend that you look at it.  It's a gigantic document with a lot of boring data, and since I keep it for my own use rather than yours, it won't be easy for you to tell what all the numbers mean.  But some of you might want to get into the nitty gritty of what we do, so go crazy. 

Your farmer,


Survey Results, Part Two: The Logistics

Here's part 2 of our overview of your survey responses. In Part 1, we focused on vegetables and selection. Part 2 focuses more on the logistics of the CSA: our communication with our members, days, times, locations and you-pick. 

Let's start with our member communications!

Weekly Updates by blog, e-mail and Facebook

I was glad to see that everyone managed to see our weekly updates at least a few times.  It's always sad when surveys come back and people comment that they couldn't ever figure out how to get our weekly posts delivered to their inbox. We've clearly made some progress, and I'm quite pleased.  

85% of you said you saw the posts in time for them to be helpful, at least sometimes.  People who pick up on Saturdays get the best advanced notice.  Three days after you pick up your share, we announce what you'll be getting the following week, with reasonable accuracy.  For the 18 of you Saturday folks who still felt we were not timely enough, I'm not sure what we can do to help you (except maybe cook your dinner for you, and really, couldn't we all use that?). 

Of people who pick up at the farm on Tuesdays, a third of you don't get much use out of our weekly updates (which is true for just 10% of Dupont folks).  This is probably because most weeks we post it and send the e-mails between 1 and 3 pm.  The Tuesday farm pick-up begins at 3pm, and for those of you who like to get there early, there would be no point in checking your e-mail on the way up our driveway to get your share.  I think the best I can do for you is show you our harvest plan, which I could potentially do as early as Saturday afternoons.  It would at least tell you what we're planning to pick, though not how much of each item you'll actually get, if any.  This idea falls into the category of "Things we could do if we paid for internet access at the washing station, or if we ran back and forth to the office a lot."  It will probably happen eventually, but perhaps not in 2013.

We're Shifting to Wednesday

The vast majority of you do not care whether our weekday pick-up is Tuesday or Wednesday, with a very slight preference for Wednesday among folks who do care.  We think your share might improve slightly if we move it to Wednesday, because there are more members picking up during the week, and there will be one more day for the plants to grow since they were last harvested.  So the balance of what we're able to pick on Wednesday vs. Saturday will better match the number of members we are serving on those days.        

Dupont pick-up: new site fine, maybe earlier?

We asked slightly different questions of the people who picked up at Dupont versus people who picked up at the farm.  People picking up at Dupont had a new site this year, which 87% felt was between neutral and great.  Only 7 people rated it poorly.  Everyone seems aware that we won't find a perfect spot in a neighborhood with so little available parking.  From a staff perspective, we were generally pleased, but with all the Tuesday evening rain storms, we were really sad that we never found a site with any rain cover. 

We noticed that a lot of you wanted more scales.  We can certainly buy a couple more for Dupont next year, and work on easing up some of the bottlenecks to reduce the lines. 

The Dupont Circle Physicians Group closes early on Wednesdays, so we'll be able to set up in their parking spaces earlier in the evening.  I was surprised to see that there was not a strong preference for 5-7pm (preferred by 23 people) versus 6-8pm (preferred by 20 people).  We might split the difference and go for 5:30-7:30pm.  We'll let you know soon what we decide. 

Thanks, by the way, for so many nice notes about the staff (Genevieve) and volunteers (Holly, Rebecca, Katie and Layne) helping at the pick-up.  I agree--I see Genevieve go way out of her way to be warm and helpful, and it seems like you all noticed, too. 

Compostable Bags

Great news!  The amount of money you contributed for bags is exactly the same as the amount we spent on the bags you used.  We were a little concerned mid-season when it looked like a lot of people were using bags but not contributing.  But all you needed was a little reminder.  Thanks!  Some of the members were discouraged to hear that other members weren't pitching in.  You may now renew your faith in human-kind.  The other great news is that 37% never needed bags from us at all, which is mighty impressive.  Only a couple of you said you would have preferred a different system, compared with the 78 people who thought it was fine as it was.  So next year we'll make the signage a little more clear and consistent, but otherwise we'll keep it the same.

You-pick signs

There is a general consensus among you that it's difficult to find you-pick items in the field.  This is a perennial problem for us, unfortunately.  How do we post signs that don't encourage strangers passing through the farm to pick our strawberries?  How do we post signs that don't get hit by tractors or mowers or vehicles, but are still visible?  Do we use paper or plastic signs can include lots of information and pictures and arrows, but which blow away or fade?  Do we make wooden signs that can't be changed year to year and are difficult to make and move and store?  Do we post a map on-line and let anyone with a computer find out about our abundant ripe tomatoes and where to find them?  I think we can make some modest improvement with some field labels and more printed maps.  If anyone has a hankering to router some wooden signs for me, let me know. 

Maintaining good selection throughout pick-up

Several of you mentioned your disappointment when items ran out before you arrived, or when food looked picked-over.  It might not seem obvious, but we routinely hold on to items to put out toward the end of pick-up--especially if we ran out of that item the week prior.  It's not a perfect system--after all, you probably don't come at the same time every week.  And there were a few weeks when we were surprised by the number of people who turned up or made a mistake with our weights, and the people at the end were left with a poorer selection.   

There was a time when we used to pre-bag some members' shares, and their general satisfaction with their shares was much lower.  So we like to offer choices to our members.  But there is not circumstance I can imagine where everyone at all pick-ups gets identical options.  We're always going to have this problem where people get a slightly different selection depending on when and where they show up.  But the people who come later during the pick-up are just as important to us as the people who come first.  I think our challenge is to make sure the value of the share at the end is just as high as what we offered in the beginning, and to somehow communicate how the selection they are seeing is a fair one.      

Thank you for sharing a season of Clagett Farm with us!

I wish I could respond to all of the comments, but you'd be reading til the cows come home.  I hope I touched on most of the important issues, at least.  If I didn't please rest assured that I definitely read them all.  There were lots of great suggestions and my mind is humming with ideas for this coming season. 

You'll hear from us again in a few weeks, when we'll invite you to re-join.  We hope you do!

Happy new year, everyone!

Your farmer, Carrie     

Survey results, Part One: Overall opinions and favorite crops

At the end of the CSA season we surveyed all of our members to find out what they thought about the 2012 season. Thank you to everyone who responded! 

Aren't you curious about everyone else's responses?  Here are all the results, exactly as they were submitted:

Below I've given you my general summary, as well as some  of my responses.  There's a lot to say!  I've done my best to stick to the most mentioned issues, and I've split my summary in half.  I'll post the second half tomorrow.    

Let's start with your general impressions:

 76% of you gave a very affirmative "yes!" that you are glad you bought a share this year.  And 98% of you were at least mostly glad.  Terrific!  

96% of you were between somewhat and very satisfied with the quality of your produce.  92% felt that way about the overall amount, and 88% were somewhat to very satisfied with the variety of choices each week.  

It looks like we should focus our efforts on offering more variety, especially in some of the weaker months.  In years past, our most difficult month was June.  Since then we've figured out how to grow early zucchini and cucumbers in June, so we've made that month more appealing.  Now the notably difficult time seems to be the fall.  Last year we had a big flood in the fall that ruined the greens.  This year we lost our sweet potatoes and winter squash.  Winter squash are always fickle for us.  They have a very long growing season, and easily succomb to disease.  And one little bite from a deer, groundhog, skunk or stink bug can ruin an entire 10-pound squash.  But we can certainly redeem ourselves with sweet potatoes. They are usually so hardy, I'm afraid I wasn't as worried as I should have been when the drought set them back, followed by a steady nibbling from animals.

Top ten crop requests.  In order of preference, you wanted more weeks of:

  1. Mushrooms - We inoculated a lot of new logs in 2012, and hope to see the results in 2013
  2. Sweet potatoes 
  3. Winter squash (acorns, butternuts & other edibles--not pumpkins) 
  4. Tomatoes
  5. Asparagus - Unfortunately our experiment of adding chickens to the field (for fertilizer and bug control) did not seem to help;  we've moved the chickens elsewhere (and might do away with them completely), and we'll plant more asparagus in the spring.
  6. Broccoli 
  7. Strawberries - We tried an everbearing variety, and we were very disappointed with the flavor, texture and yield;  we'd rather try some new fruits and leave the strawberries to May and June.
  8. Spinach - More!  We agree!  It's a tricky little plant for us, but we're working on it.
  9. Peas - One of my co-workers has some choice words about peas ("#*$%ing waste of time...").  They require huge amounts of work for just a handful per share for 2-3 weeks.  We're going to need a whole new plan for peas, and none of our ideas involve increasing how much we're growing.  This is a terrific candidate for your own garden, if you happen to have one.  Or perhaps you'd like to move to England?  
  10. Cucumbers - We had some great cucumbers in June, and then a lot of disappointment.  That's definitely one we'll keep working on improving.  

There were a heck of a lot of potatoes this year, weren't there?  I was surprised to see that there were still 39 of you who wanted more weeks of potatoes, and 28 of you wanted larger amounts per week.  That's some real potato love, right there. 

And 17 of you still wanted more Southern Giant mustard.  I thought even those of us who love spicy mix were maxed out by the end of fall.  Kudos to you and your stomachs of steel!  You will outlive me for sure. 

I appreciated one comment: "Clearly, some items can't have longer harvest times, so 'more weeks' is a bit of a dream…" So true!

And whoever wrote, "I love greens and there were plenty for me!" is one of my new favorite customers.  As well as the person who wrote, "Our involvement with this CSA has literally changed our lives, not just in the way we eat, but in how we think about food."  I feel like a dog that just had her belly rubbed. 

Items that we didn't list, but many requested:

The most commonly mentioned was the same as every year:  FRUIT.  Indeed.  We love fruit too!  We'll be  planting some blueberries and Asian pears this spring, but please keep your expectations low.  This is a notoriously difficult region for growing organic fruit.  

A lot of you also requested beets.  Perhaps you have heard me mention how many times I've tried to grow beets, and yet I can't even get them to germinate.  Oddly enough, they grow beautifully in my kitchen garden, which is a stone's throw from several of our vegetable fields.  Some day the eureka moment will come, when I finally find the answer to this puzzle.   

Several people were especially happy about the abundance of tomatillos, ground cherries and celery in the you-pick field.  I'm glad you mentioned the celery, because I was thinking that was a bit of a bust.  The celery was great in my stock pot, but I didn't notice a lot of people picking it.  So we'll keep all three crops in the u-pick field for next year.   

Shallots were another frequent mention.  And I've been surprised to find they are my favorite topping on our homemade pizzas.  The bit we grew fared reasonably well, so we'll plan a modest increase for 2013--modest because we need to be sure we don't plant more than we can weed.  

Some of you might remember that we planted some experimental fava beans, parsnips and fennel this year.  The favas were a miserable failure.  They grew poorly, the deer ate them, the ones that remained had black spots all over them, and the one I ate was kind of gross.  I love a chance to quit growing something that doesn't work, so that was all the convincing I needed to give up, but my English co-worker, Dave, would like to try again.  We'll see who wins.   To be honest, I'm kind of a push-over. 

The parsnips didn't grow well, but still have potential.  They have an especially long growing season--one of the first crops to be planted, and one of the last to be harvested.  By the time we should be pulling them out of the ground, everything else we planted back in the spring has been long gone, so in September the parsnips sit alone surrounded by cover crop and get neglected.  We need to find a place for them that we can keep weed-free for a long time.  It's not the most attractive quality in a plant, but we'll give it another try. 

The fennel was tough and chewy.  I think it would have been more tender if we had harvested it sooner, but the bulbs would have been pretty small.  We'll adjust our planting and harvest times to get a better result.  At worst, we can offer a steady supply of fennel leaves, much as we do with celery.  The feathery greens can be a nice garnish for salad, if you like the taste of licorice.  It's not perfect, but we'll take what we can get.   


In past years we've gotten quite a few comments from people who felt their tomatoes often spoiled before they had a chance to use them.  This year we made a point of picking them less ripe, so there was a range of ripeness to choose from.  86% of you thought that strategy worked.  9% of you thought they were still too ripe, and 6% of you thought they weren't ripe enough.  Perhaps we've struck a good middle ground? 

I'd be happier with more tomatoes overall, so you can go crazy picking as many for yourselves as you want of your preferred maturity, flavor, size, and so forth.  My favorite decision was leaving all the cherry and grape tomatoes for you-pickers.  You deserve the sweet reward for your efforts, and the nerves behind my knees deserve a little break after all that squatting to pick beans.  For those of you that do not have a car, I applaud you, and direct you to Zipcar.  Some treats must be appreciated in the field. 


We had an excellent question about the garlic:

There were ups and downs this year, but that is all part of the bargain, right?  Still waiting for an answer though on way you were selling the garlic surplus rather than including it in the shares.  We took the bad (i.e. the corn, the melon) with the good, so we didn't we share in the garlic bonanza? Just can't wrap my brain around that one.

Garlic is one crop that we can grow very well with relatively little space, labor, and other expenses.  Yet in survey responses, it seems very few members want more of it than we're already giving you.  And in weeks when we offer garlic as a choice among several items, few people take extra garlic.  So we're not adding much value to your share with more garlic.  Yet I do not believe that if we stopped growing the extra garlic we could increase the size and quality of your CSA share by much.  On the contrary, selling the garlic made a profit of $5,414.  Had we tried to make that same income from CSA shares, we would have had to raise prices by $21. 

We used that income to pay for staff and supplies, which means we can provide a better share for a lower price to you.  So I believe you did "share in our bonanza," but it wasn't in the form of garlic.  Perhaps to make the situation better for the two dozen of you who would like more garlic, next year we can offer garlic more often as part of a choice among other items, so you can take more if you want it.   And of course, we gave you the chance to buy it, so you could spend $21 and buy 4 pounds of garlic, which is about 48 bulbs, or 240 cloves.  Our intention is to give you as much as we can of the things you want, and waste as little of our time on things you don't want.  I certainly don't want to give the impression that we're taking your money, siphoning off our best product, and then selling it to someone else.  Do you have thoughts you would like to share?  Feel free to leave your comments below and tell us what you think.   

 Is your share getting smaller?

Here's a comment from a member that I would like to address:

The full shares these days are about 1/2 what they were 10-15 years ago.  Why is that?  When I first joined, a "full" share was enough for typically two small households each week; now it's barely enough for one hungry vegetarian.  What percentage of the output goes to non-revenue generating interests?

I like this question because it inspired me to go back to one of our old Year End Reports (2001).  I got a good chuckle thinking about how some things have never changed ("many customers requested pick-up sites closer to their houses"), while others have changed quite drastically (we didn't harvest weekends). 

To the point of the questions raised, in 2001 we distributed 55% of our harvest to low-income families (our "non-revenue generating interests"), compared to 47% this year.  The weight of the share averaged 7.4 pounds per week in 2001.  This year it was 6.2 pounds/week, which is indeed, lower.  Interestingly, our all-time highest average was in 2010 (9.3 lbs/wk) and our all-time low was 2011 (5.4 lbs/wk), although our records prior to 2004 are not terrific.  At any rate, the weight of the share is not the same as the volume or the quality of the share.  So I don't want to dismiss the idea that a member might have been much more satisfied with a share 10 years ago as opposed to this year.  But the evidence does not support that with any clarity. 

I can say that in 2001 our income was 25% of what it was this year.  We had less than half as many CSA shares, and we charged just $340 per share.  It was certainly a much better deal for our customers, but it was not financially sustainable--we relied very heavily on money from the Capital Area Food Bank and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation back then.

Check in tomorrow when we talk about your pick-up sites, weekly updates, compostable bags, and more!  Woohoo! 

Table of 2012 shares by month

We've just sent e-mails to all of our 2012 CSA members asking you all to tell us what you thought of your shares.  Did you get the e-mail?  If not, and you were a CSA member, click to the survey here:  And please send us a note to let us know you didn't get the survey.  We want to make sure you get an invitation in January to sign  up for the 2013 season. 

Sometimes it's hard to remember what was in your shares each week.  Of course, you can go back through the blog and read what we posted each week.  But to give you a quick, visual reminder, here's a chart:  Download 2012 per month share summary

You can also click on this image to enlarge the chart:

2012 per month share summary



Crunching the numbers from 2011

I've been in front of a computer lately, figuring out how the season looks by the numbers.  I thought it went pretty well--we had a nice variety of vegetables throughout the season.  But we definitely had some major pitfalls, and our total pounds hasn't been so low since 2006.

 If the details interest you, I'm linking a few charts.  They are PDF files:

  • Download Total pounds per crop per share This chart shows you an approximation of how many pounds you got of each crop (though it obiously depends on the choices you made at the pick-up).  Tomatoes were the winner!
  • Download Number of weeks crops were offered This is a similar chart but looks at how many weeks each crop was offered.  Note, for example, that kale was available 14 weeks, which is a lot, but everyone got an average of just 1.8 pounds, which is basically enough for 2 weeks.  So you can see that we obviously made it one choice among many items.  If you love kale, that's good that you were able to choose it so often.  If you hate it, it's good that you had other choices.   
  • Download Crops offered each week 2011 This is a big chart that's especially good for people who are considering becoming members of our farm.  It shows what was offered each week, and how many total pounds were in each week's share. 
  • Download Yield per variety 2011 This chart will only appeal to you if you are curious about how each of the different varieties performed.  For example, Hakurei turnips yielded one sixth as many  pounds for each linear foot planted as Purple-Top turnips did.  Bummer! 

But looking at a series of dry numbers doesn't really tell a story.  Here's a general sense of how the season went, from the grower's perspective.  It's pretty long (I can't help myself), so you might want to skim to the items that interest you.

SPRING:  March and April were very wet.  In the cold weather of spring and fall, moisture does not evaporate quickly from the soil, so a single rain event can make our soils wet for weeks.  Some years we have dragged the tractor through the wet ground anyway, just to get the plants started, but this has backfired by compacting the soil, which makes it harder to weed later, and further decreases the soil's ability to drain.  This spring we decided to try planting the crops on-time by hand, without tilling the soil with a tractor.  We're hoping that decision will help our soil and crop health in the long term, but the short-term result was that most of our spring crops grew much more slowly. 

  • Salad and cooking greens, radishes: fared pretty well without tillage.  We harvested them a little later than normal, but yields were about average, and they had very few weeds. 
  • Carrots:  Our first planting (un-tilled) matured a month later than we they normally would have, but they were remarkably weed-free, tasted good, and gave us a huge number of pounds for the small area planted.  We planted the second round with some lettuce in April and they never germinated.  The prior cover crop of sorghum-sudan grass was still breaking down, and its "allelopathic" chemicals were prevent seeds from germinating.  Oops!  We planted a third round 10 days later and they grew reasonably well considering how much carrots hate the heat.
  • Cabbage, Kohlrabi:  No-till was OK for quick-growing Chinese cabbage, but kohlrabi and slower-growing cabbages didn't make sufficient heads before the heat ruined their flavor and stopped their growth completely.  Weed competition was also a bigger problem by June in no-till fields. 
  • Broccoli:  We go back and forth about whether it's worth planting broccoli in the spring.  This year we didn't bother.  Spring broccoli plants suffer from the heat and give small, bitter heads that are more attractive to caterpillars than customers.  It's hard to justify all the space they require for such mediocre output.    
  • Garlic:  This is a crop we can grow very well, so we've doubled our planting for 2012.  Hopefully we can sell our surplus and reduce some of the financial strain on our CSA.
  • Mushrooms:  We have a collection of about a hundred logs in a shaded greenhouse that are inoculated with shiitake mushroom spawn.  Each year we have steadily increased the number of logs and they are finally producing enough mushrooms to have them available for all CSA members at least once.  This year Rob has begun inoculating fallen trees in the woods.  It will take several more years for them to fruit, and they will be more vulnerable to pests and weather, but in the years when those circumstances are favorable, we should see a huge increase in the number of mushrooms we can harvest. 
  • Onions:  This is our second year of success growing bulb onions.  Hooray!  We are not at the ideal latitude for growing storage onions (north is better), so we have been reluctant to grow more than we can give out fresh, but we'll do some experimenting. 
  • Peas: Our particular climate limits us to 3-4 weeks of peas.  No more, no less.  We've considered ways that we can warm up the soil so we can plant some a bit earlier, which could extend our harvest.
  • Rhubarb:  We weed, fertilize and mulch this once a year, and then forget all about it.  It seems to work pretty well!  100 plants seems sufficient to us, but if you want a lot more, let us know. 
  • Strawberries:  We had an average yield of strawberries this year.  We'll have a little more acreage to pick from this coming spring than last, so I'm hopeful for next year.  It's hard to keep such a big space weeded for three years, so that's the main limiting factor that keeps us from planting half the farm in strawberries.
  • Herbs:  We had big plans for the teams of volunteers that would keep the herb beds weeded, but that never really worked out.  The biggest problem is the wire grass that spreads its rhizomes under the pathways and then pops up in the beds every time we look away.  Our big plan for 2012 is to bury aluminum flashing as a border between the beds and the paths to keep out the grass, to build up the beds with a little more compost, to use wood chips or grass clippings as mulch between plants in the beds, to move the mint and oregano into a big planter, and to come up with a system to capture the wash water from the washing station so we can water the herbs more regularly.   Will the big plans materialize?  We'll see!

SUMMER was remarkable for how dry it was.  It was a year of extreme weather!  We had over a month without any rain at all.  We also suffered from some problems in the greenhouse.  We had very low germination, and it took a long series of failures before we figured out there was herbicide residue in our neighbor's compost, which we bought for our soil mix.  Needless to say we won't be purchasing compost any longer.  As a result we had fewer tomato, eggplant and pepper seedlings than normal, and lost all of our seedlings for fall broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards and cauliflower.  Why didn't we just run to the store and buy more?  Organic seedlings are typically only available in the quantities we need if we order them 7 weeks in advance, and they are expensive.  By the time we knew we needed them, it was too late.

  • Basil: We tried planting this extra-early in some small beds and protecting them against spring frost with floating row cover.  It worked well!  We finally were able to offer basil at the same time as our garlic scapes, and it survived reasonably well through the summer in spite of the close spacing.   
  • Beans:  What a crazy bean year.  The drought caused them to quit producing, and then when it rained at the end of summer, they spit out a whole summer's-worth of beans all at once.  They get an A+ for effort, as do my unbelievably loyal crew of pickers (most of them unpaid!).  Did you notice the pole beans?  This was our first attempt, and we liked it enough to make plans for next year (with a better trellis).   
  • Beets: We have tried many ways to grow beets with no success.  This year we included some donated seed in our summer cover crop planting, but none of it germinated.  I suspect it has something to do with our soil's deficiency in Boron, but our efforts to fertilize have not helped.
  • Corn: Our sweet corn suffered an avalanche of problems this year--drought, deer, raccoons, weeds, you name it.  Some years we get lucky, but this year we really didn't!  The popcorn hit the jackpot though--rain at just the right time, and very few bugs and weeds.  So you'll get lots of pretty ears of popcorn in your first share next year. 
  • Cucumbers:  For some reason, the short, squat pickling cucumbers grow well for us.  Regular slicers don't do as well, and the fancy Asian cucumbers never make anything at all.  In our 2009 member survey, several members mentioned they would like more variety in our cucumber offerings, so we keep trying new varieties anyway.  Picklers, by the way, can be sliced into a salad just as you would a slicer.  And if you prefer more tender skins, always choose the smaller cucumbers.  They often look a little ragged because the skin gets nicked more easily, but they still taste great. 
  • Eggplant:  This was a great year for eggplant--especially the long, thin, lavendar ones (called Orient Charm).  We tried a green variety this year (Raveena) that didn't produce much and didn't get noticed much by CSA members.  The white one (Snowy) produced well but was prone to some unattractive black spotting.  As usual, we planted lots of the large, Italian-type (Black Beauty) because even though it produces fewer pounds per plant, our members seem to like it more.
  • Melons:  were a dismal failure ths year, which was a hard hit considering how great they were last year.  I can think of a number of contributing factors, but I'm not sure which was the main culprit. (1)Last year there was moisture in the planting and flowering phases and dry weather while the fruits were developing.  This year was drier earlier, which might have prevented pollination.  (2)We used a field that hadn't benefited from a robust cover crop before planting.  (3)We lost a lot of plants in the greenhouse so we had to direct-seed a greater proportion, which tends to be less successful.  And (4), we never covered the plants with floating row cover to protect from disease during the first 3 weeks after planting.   Fortunately we did have a few cantaloupes in a different field that were successful enough to give everyone the option of a melon at least once.  
  • Okra:  yielded well for us this year.  We've moved away from using a hybrid (Cajun Delight, which is no longer available) to this much cheaper open-pollinated seed.  We saved lots of our own seed this year, which we've never done before.  We're eager to see how well it grows next year.  A note to you-pickers: be sure to come the day before harvest if you want to get a lot.  We've tried leaving some on the plant for you to harvest, but too often they become overgrown and were wasted. 
  • Chile peppers:  were hot this year!  And they grew well.  We try for a broad mix of varieties, although we shy away from chiles with similar shapes and colors to any our sweet peppers. 
  • Sweet/bell peppers:  We had fewer seedlings to plant than we had intended, but they grew very well, so we still harvested plenty of peppers.  Like most years, the fruits often develop a soft spot before they ripen completely, so it's very tempting to pick the bells when they are green instead of waiting until they have turned yellow or red and sweetened up.  And for some reason, the plants make smaller peppers as they age, so we have lots of smaller bells at the end of the season.  We had used two types of weed barrier--one straw mulch and the other landscape fabric.  The peppers in the straw mulch definitely grew better.
  • Potatoes:  It's not often I have such complete failures for which I have only myself to blame.  Yikes!  The last two years I had planted potatoes deeper and deeper with better and better results.  Until this year!  That cold wet spring was extra cold and extra wet one foot underground, and all the seed rotted.  Obviously I should have tested my new technique on a smaller section of he field instead of the whole lot of it.  So the best depth for potato seed?  6 inches.  Tattood on my brain.  
  • Summer squash:  Hooray for early, self-pollinating zucchini!  The seed is expensive, but I could never get early squash before I started planting it into landscape fabric and covering it with floating row cover.  The other 3 plantings later in the season did not grow as well, but by then you were growing weary of squash anyway, so it wasn't such a big deal. 
  • Tomatoes:  were very successful this year.  We didn't grow as many seedlings as we wanted, but the ones that we planted produced abundantly.  Given our short supply of plants, we weren't able to set aside a section for you-pick only, nor a separate field for late-season production--both of which we intend to do in 2012.  One test we conducted this year was on a few products that are marketed to improve soil microbial life and therefore plant health on a few rows of the New Girl tomatoes.  None of them appeared to improve the yield or longevity of those plants.  An investment we will make for 2012 is in metal "T-posts", to replace some of the wooden stakes.  This should keep all those large, healthy plants from falling over! 

FALL  Rain flooded our 2 fields of greens, radishes, carrots and turnips, carrying away some of the seed, rotting many of the newly germinating plants (farewell, sweet spinach!) and slowing down growth for a month.

  • Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower:  Our seeds did not germinate because of our soil mix problems.  We ordered plants to replace them, but didn't get them in time to produce heads by November.
  • Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes):  These are a type of sunflower, that make roots a lot like potatoes, but without all that fattening starch.  It stores its energy as inulin, instead, which encourages healthy microbes in your colon, but in large doses, also has some distracting side effects (thus the nickname, "fartichoke").  They produced a knock-out yield with very little effort, so now I'm a big fan.  I'm excited to grow and eat more next year (in moderate amounts, of course). 
  • Sweet Potatoes:  They produced very well--6900 pounds--even better than last year.  We had some loss to groundhogs (at least five were eating from one corner of A6), but the deer fence continues to save us from the wild destruction we suffered before 2010.  Sweet potatoes thrive in poor soils and little rain.  God bless them.   We used to grow a lot of varieties and had trouble keeping them separate.  Since then we've found a much cheaper source of organic "slips" (seedlings), but they only offer one variety.
  • Swiss Chard:  Usually our spring-planted chard goes dormant over the summer and revives in the fall.  This fall the chard was lucky to be in a field with good drainage, but it still suffered from a mold called, "leaf spot", due to the wet weather.  So we didn't get much fall chard. 
  • Winter Squash:  is in the cucurbit family, along with melons, cucumbers and summer squash.  Every cucurbit standing the day before Hurricane Irene was dead the morning after.  We were able to salvage some of the earliest-maturing squash for shares.

Later this winter I'll analyze the survey results and answer members' questions.  If you are a CSA member and haven't responded to the survey, here's the link:  If you've already submitted a response, and you'd like to change it, you can access your old one by going back to our original e-mail invitation.  That should allow you to edit the one you turned in.