The work doesn’t slow down on a farm when the summer ends, it just changes gear from crops to infrastructure. We’ve created a ‘Projects Page‘ to share with you what’s going on at Sweet Acre this Fall. These are a couple of the projects up there now that are underway on the farm. There are many more to follow!
A New, Movable Greenhouse
In advance of the 2016 growing season we will be constructing a Rolling Thunder greenhouse at the farm. The idea behind this rolling structure, is that a grower can extend the season of crops in 2 separate plots of ground over the course of the season. On our farm, this would mean getting tomatoes in the ground earlier than usual (the beginning of May), and keeping them healthy longer. Over the last 5 years of growing, we have found that our greenhouse tomatoes suffer far less from disease and weather then our un-covered field crop.
Meanwhile, as the tomatoes are thriving in their protected environment, we will be planting a crop of fall greens in an identical footprint in front of the tomato house. When the tomatoes finish up in the fall, we roll the whole greenhouse, on a set of tracks, over the maturing greens to keep them growing well into the winter.
Overall, these improvements to the health and longevity of our tomato crop (one of the most profitable and popular crops any vegetable farm produces), and the longer fresh greens season into winter, means a more financially viable farm business for us at Sweet Acre, and more food for the community. (images from Rimolgreenhouses.com)
For 4 of our 5 seasons farming, we have washed and packed your vegetables in the wide-open sun, rain, & wind. We have stainless steel sinks and counters for processing vegetables for market and CSA days. In the worst case scenario this can mean standing in the pouring rain, ankle deep in mud, with hands so cold and devoid of dexterity that they might as well be billy clubs trying to put a rubber band around a bunch of carrots. Admittedly, it’s not always that bad, but the idea of never suffering through outdoor Fall vegetable washing again is pretty exciting.
Our wash station building would be a simple structure: cedar posts cut from trees on our property, a metal roof overhead and gravel underfoot. Next year we might even add some walls!
And more…. There’s always more….
It’s time to start thinking about storage crops!!!
As we enter the fall season you’ll be seeing more and more “storage vegetables” at market. These crops, as the name implies, can be stored for months at a time, allowing you to continue eating good local food through the long winter months, even while the vegetable fields of CT are buried in snow.
Potatoes, winter squash, beets, carrots, turnips, onions & garlic are the storage crops that we grow, and there will be bulk amounts of these available in October for customers who want to stock up before the growing season comes to an end. Additional storage crops to stock up on from other local farms include cabbage, rutabaga, kohlrabi, apples & pears.
It is a remarkable thing that root vegetables can stay sweet, crunchy and delicious in your refrigerator… for as long as 7 months! Believe me, it’s true. I have lost many a beet to the back of my refrigerator, only to roast it for dinner upon finding it many months later. Delish!
Root veggies (beets, carrots & turnips), that are separated from their greens promptly, keep well in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Winter squash likes temperatures in the 50-55 degree range with higher humidity. A basement would work well for large amounts, though keeping a few Butternut squash on your kitchen counter or pantry should work just fine. You might have to eat them within 3 months instead of 6 in that scenario. (The University of Maine put together an extensive chart of favorable conditions for vegetables for reference.)
Mother Earth News has an article with many creative (sometimes over the top) ways to store you storage crops at home. My advice is not to worry about the perfect conditions you don’t have at home, but to think creatively about the spaces you do have that are cool, dark, out of the way, or refrigerated.
In summary: there is no reason why any of us have to go back to buying all our groceries in the sad sad produce isle of the grocery store just because market is over. A 10 pound bag (each!) of beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, and turnips should keep you eating delicious, nutritious vegetables well into the winter.
Be a local food hero and stock up on storage crops!
Before we bought our farm last year, it was a hayfield for as long as anyone can remember. As a result we have deep, rich topsoil that has accumulated over the years of perennial growth and decomposition. It also means that our field is compacted – the result of years of machines driving over it to cut and bale hay.
Compaction makes it difficult for plants to get all the nutrition and water available underground, and can cause drainage problems in the spring. This year we bought a broadfork – a 5 foot tall fork with five, 14-inch blades for tines. By forking the majority of our field with this tool, we’ve managed to break through a lot of the compacted sub-soil. A carrot we pulled yesterday (photo above) is evidence that all that effort is paying off. That taproot is almost 2 feet long!
Here is an article on pollinators from one of our favorite winter-time reads, the FedCo tree catalog:
“We owe thanks to our pollinators for giving us food to eat and seeds to grow. Bees, birds, bats, moths, flies and butterflies gather protein-rich pollen and sugary nectar from flower to flower while cross-pollinating our food crops and almost every plant we see.
Yet many of our pollinator species are threatened, endangered or extinct from widespread chemical use on farms and gardens, genetically modified crops, and loss of habitat due to development. Bees are considered a “keystone” species, meaning that many other species depend on them for survival. Their extinction means our extinction. So why do we continue to harm them while at the same time demanding so much?
We can begin to help our pollinators by incorporating native plants back into our landscape and creating forage in places where it’s lacking. We can make our gardens a natural habitat for insects rather than a toxic place that only exists for our enjoyment. It’s a critical time to create gardens that mimic the native environment and help our suburbias (and farms!) be a little more natural.
Over millions of years, plants and pollinating insects have evolved together. Certain pollinators favor certain flowers depending on which colors they can see or which shapes their mouthparts fit into.”
Visit their website for a giant list of pollinator-friendly plants, trees, and shrubs to get your garden buzzing.