Tag Archives: salad mix

why farmers don’t vacation…

…at least in the summertime.

Coming back to the field this morning was, erm, ahem, <choke>, a bit of a shock. There was good news, and there was bad news.

I’m a realist. Let’s start with the bad.

First of all, in two weeks, dawn has changed noticeably. Emmett and I arrived on the field at 5 a.m. in the pitch black, figuring we were just a bit before the blue stage of the morning — and that, at any moment, dawn would grab hold of the horizon with her rosy fingers and illuminate the greens for our timely harvest.

Newsflash: in San Francisco on August 16, the sun doesn’t rise until 6:25 a.m. Which means that civil twilight (when the sun is within six degrees of the horizon, aka “bright twilight”) doesn’t get going until 6. Which means we were yanking, washing, and sorting beets, not to mention harvesting chard, when it was utterly, absolutely, one hundred percent dark. Also: truck headlights do not work very well as a light source. They tend to blind you, and cast all sorts of horrible shadows which make it exceptionally difficult to actually distinguish the vegetables you’re picking from one another. We only had one headlamp between the two of us. The going was slow.

The next bad news came with the dawn (aka, when we could actually see things). The salad we’d sown three weeks earlier has barely germinated. Where we had expected to see densely-packed, decently-sized leaves ready for next weekend’s harvest, there were only tiny, itsy-bitsy lettucelets sparsely strewn across the damp earth. And the only harvestable salad (one that had been in seedling stage before we left) was bolting.

Crouching down to the overgrown lettuce, Emmett announced, “I’m going to cut like there’s no tomorrow.”

I interrupted. “…because there isn’t one for the salad?”

Emmett grimaced. “Because it’s really big, and it needs to be cut back.”

I mentally estimated the cost of our lack of harvestable lettuce. For this weekend’s markets, we’ll have lettuce (salvaged from the patch that was partly bolting), but next weekend we won’t. We make, conservatively, $200 a week off our lettuce and baby brassica mixes. So by the time we get our salad rotation back up and going — it’ll take another three weeks minimum — that’s a $600 loss to tack on to the cost of our “vacation.” (We did some non-farm work on our vacation, and family reunions aren’t exactly “vacations” anyway…)

That loss was a lot to swallow that early in the morning. Still, the worst news came from the corn patch, when we tried to determine whether or not the corn was ripe.

Emmett wrested an ear of corn from its stalk, and gently pulled back the silk. The kernels were still slightly transparent and watery-looking, suggesting the ear wasn’t quite ready yet. Emmett shucked the rest of it anyway just to try a taste — revealing two fat green bastard worms chowing down on our pre-natal, organic, well-watered, well-tended, well-fertilized corn.

We went to a different plant, a different ear, and pulled back a bit of its silk — revealing another fat bug.

“Well, I guess this is all chicken feed,” Emmett said. He shrugged. “Crop failure.” Matter-of-fact destruction: It was just that kind of morning. (Our chicks, by the way, will arrive Wednesday. Perfect timing, right?)

Emmett flicked off the green bastards off the first ear, and we each gingerly took a bite far away from where the grubs had been dining. Not even Emmett — a true king of eating disgusting things — would eat the rest of the damaged ear. I don’t have a problem with buying spotted apples, cracked tomatoes, or funky three-legged carrots. But there’s no way I would buy wormy corn, so there’s no way I’m selling it.

Was there good news? Right, I’ll get to that part tomorrow.

-Lynda

p.s. — OK, this morning I mentioned I was going to snazz up the blog. Here’s the plan: I’ll comb through the daily online media onslaught and try to find relevant articles about local food, organic agriculture, pastured poultry, integrated pest management — whatever seems relevant. Then I’ll post links for you guys to peruse, so this blog won’t just be about Foggy River Farm, it’ll also be a portal for all kinds of interesting farm news.

I’m also going to (once I plant some salad, stake tomatoes, and generally catch up on the farmwork) try to offer more complete, detailed instructions for planting and maintaining some of my favorite, most successful crops. Which, as of now, does not include corn!

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mysterious moonlight diggers

I can’t think of many things more devastating than leaving your happy, healthy plants in the evening and finding them destroyed the next morning. Destruction can come in many forms: a swarm of cucumber beetles, a broken water pipe, a fast-acting bacterial disease. But one form of ruin is particularly frustrating to me right now: mysterious holes dug haphazardly throughout our planted beds.

For months now–ever since we started growing our baby salad mixes–we’ve been finding small patches of salad dug up each morning. It always looks the same: scattered depressions of moist, scuffed soil, each about the size of a saucer. Around each one, uprooted lettuces mounded with dirt. The lettuces are resilient enough that we can generally push them back into the soil and they’ll keep growing. So it’s never enough of a loss to take out a week’s harvest, but just enough to drive us crazy. And the anonymous digger doesn’t stick exclusively to the salad bed. He also leaves us holes in the radish bed, the leeks, young beets.

Every farmer or gardener has to dedicate a fraction of each week to sleuth work. Sometimes I feel like Sherlock Holmes in overalls (with less of an intuition for catching the bad guys, sadly.) So, who is the mysterious moonlight digger? What are his motives? Let’s look at the evidence. First, the digger seems to have zero interest in the plants themselves. He tosses them aside in search of a greater prize. Second, the digger also targets areas where we have young plants growing–baby salad greens, beet seedlings, tiny leeks. What’s unique about these beds? They’re watered more frequently than the more mature plants, so the soil is always moist. Third, the digger only attacks at night.

So from these observations we’ve deduced that the perpetrator is a nocturnal animal searching for grubs or insects that thrive in the constantly wet soil below the salad bed. But still, we don’t know who it is specifically. Top on the list are skunk, fox, and raccoon. My bet is with the skunk, because I know they have a real soft spot for grubs. ( Skunks are omnivores; they eat everything from insects, larvae, and earthworms to rodents, frogs, birds, berries, and fungi. One recently attacked a wasps nest near our farm, ripping it apart to get at the tasty larvae inside.) Which means I’d better be careful if I try to confront the mystery digger in person. I’m not keen to take a tomato juice bath, in the event of a skunk spray.

We’ve been plotting to camp out in the field for a night to catch the crook red handed (if only we had nigh vision goggles). Since the damage hasn’t been catastrophic, it’s hard to justify putting up any serious fencing or netting, but I’d at least like to know what’s causing the problem. I guess it’s the inner detective in me. In the meantime, we’ve started lightening up on the salad bed watering, especially in the afternoon– to slacken off on the moisture content of the soil.

So, for now, we’ll tuck this case into the unsolved mysteries file and keep you posted if we mount a sting operation to catch our supposed skunk by moonlight.

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growing fancy: beautiful baby lettuce

It’s not one hundred percent pest proof, but it’s pretty darn good. While our brassica mix attracts flea and cucumber beetles like none other — which I found interesting, since it’s considerably more spicy and slightly tougher than this mix — our awesome Johnny’s Seeds lettuce mix is surprisingly resilient and mostly beetle-free. It’s got lots of fancy-sounding varieties in it (Rouge D’Hiver, anyone?) but mostly it boils down to: curly red, curly green, (both of which are great for loft, i.e. fluffing up your salad bags), flat red and flat green. All are quite beautiful, and the “flat red” are slightly mottled — a beautiful red-and-green color blend.

Despite the summer heat — note: we water with one-foot-tall misters, but only sprang for shade cloth for a fraction of the space — the salad hasn’t yet bolted. It can easily be cut (and come again, as they say) three times without getting too tough or bitter. It takes about four weeks until it’s a harvestable size (three with lots of water and lots of heat), but regrows very quickly. I find that the flat leaves grow, and regrow, much more quickly than the curly. (Same as curly versus straight hair, I guess.)

Main thing to watch for this with this crop: weeds. (You can spot a few grasses and one wild mustard in the photo above.) But if you’re growing for home use, the weeds shouldn’t be too big of a problem — if you’re picking on the scale of one dinner at a time, you can easily pick them out while washing the leaves. For a commercial scale (even a small one), we have to spend a couple of hours a week pulling out mustards and grasses… otherwise it’s a painfully slow harvest, come Saturday morning, as we pull weeds out of each handful we snip.

One other thing to watch for, thanks to the overhead misters: slugs, which love all things damp. I’ve caught a few on the leaves, but they were really small, and I haven’t noticed too much slug damage.

Note: the organic version of this mix is called “Encore,” and the conventional is called “Allstar.” The conventional is considerably cheaper, and I think we settled for that the second time around. We always go for non-treated seeds, but I’m still torn about whether or not the seeds themselves need to be grown organically. Yes, I obviously believe in organic agriculture — but in terms of my end product, how much can one lettuce seed carry in terms of residual chemicals, etc? If the lettuce you’re eating is grown with only organic inputs, isn’t that good enough? Hopefully in the future we’ll be saving our own seeds, eliminating this discussion altogether — but it’s still some food for thought.

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