This Saturday, April 2 is our Spring Open Farm Day and Potluck! It is open to the entire community. We will take a tour of the farm from 3-5pm and answer any questions that people have about our farm and our CSA program. I plan to focus on some of the changes on the farm that have occurred or will occur this season, but I will also give an introduction to our farm for those who have never been here. We will share a potluck meal from 5-7pm. Please bring a meal or side to share as well as dinnerware and utensils for you and your family. Also, it is supposed to rain Thursday and Friday, so please bring shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting a little muddy!
Both of our winter carrot varieties successfully overwintered this winter! We have seeded carrots for overwintering the past three winters; however, this is the first winter that they have overwintered so successfully. We trialed two varieties, our standard fall heirloom carrot (Red-Cored Chantenay) and a quick Nantes-style hybrid that is commonly used for overwintering (Napoli). They both survived at about the same rate. The Napoli carrots are so quick that we could go ahead and start picking them if we needed to. The Red-Core Chantenay carrots lack a little bit of color right now, but I think by the time we are picking carrots for your CSA shares (in a few weeks) that they will be ready, too. They both have very good flavor, although as can be expected the newer hybrid is sweeter (since that is one of the qualities most carrot breeders are looking for). Thank you to Andrea Webster (a new CSA member) and Libby Stancell (a longtime CSA member) for their leaves! Although they have mostly blown away now, they kept the carrots well-insulated and protected from winter winds.
Our bees overwintered, too! We have had a warm winter. Warm winters are not necessarily bad for bees. They suffer more in winters with a lot of fluctuation, particularly if it warms up for several weeks and then we have a long cold spell (like last winter). Today, as a way of celebrating Spring and because it was really getting to the now or never point, I opened up both hives from top to bottom to see how they faired over the winter. Our hives have been very different from the very beginning. One has always been much calmer than the other, which I call aggressive but Lalo likes to call active. Both hives had made their way into their top two boxes, the very top super being the last of their honey stores (the more active hive had a little more than the calmer hive) and the lower super being where they were now raising their brood. As they followed their honey stores over the winter, both hives had emptied out their bottom two boxes. That means it was time for a little rearranging. The more active hive was starting to draw comb on their hive cover, which always make me a little antsy (a hive which feels like it is running out of room this time of year is liable to swarm). So I moved the base of the hive back down to the bottom and put their empty boxes with frames of drawn comb on top. These boxes will now be ready for the spring nectar flow. I chose not to split either of the hives, although I may split the more active hive later in the season. I hope with two established hives we may be able to harvest some honey this summer, even if it is just a little bit for us. We should definitely have plenty of healthy pollinators flying around the farm this season!
Also, welcome back to Anna Laura Reeve, who has rejoined us after spending last year with her infant daughter, and welcome to Paul Adams, who will be working with us part-time this spring and summer. This will be the most working hands that we have ever had on the farm. We are looking forward to sharing the workload and also to not having to rush around so much. This should give us an opportunity to dedicate more time to our long-term sustainability goals, like seed saving, soil improvement, and education.
March is Spring Planting Time: Over the winter, I read the book Long Man by Amy Greene. It is a local novel set in 1936 when TVA constructed several dams across the valley to control the area rivers, create electricity, and bring jobs. Everything about the novel is very regional, from the actual events to the character descriptions and voices to the writer’s writing style. At one point in the novel, Greene makes a reference to the fact that every year in the first week of March, the ice began to thaw, the earliest native plants began to peek through the soil, and the people began to prepare the ground for planting. I do not know if this has always been so, if when writing this, she was referring to her own observations or some sort of historical documentation. But in my time here and particularly in our time farming here, the first week of March seems to always signal a significant shift in the weather: the birds start making nests, the daffodils and early flowering trees begin to bloom, the hens start laying eggs again, and we spend the week planting spring crops. Last week, the greenhouse was overflowing with spring seedlings, and today, it is more than half empty, as we make room for summer plants like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash and zucchini, cucumbers, and melons.
This week on the farm we are preparing to transplant spring seedlings. Just look at all those seedlings ready to go in the ground: spinach, curly kale, red curly kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. And now, the waiting game begins. The temperatures look to be steadying about where we would expect them this time of year: daytime average highs in the upper forties to lower fifties and nighttime lows near freezing, but most of the week is looking too soggy for planting. We will look for our first dry-enough window to begin transplanting outside. Meanwhile, we will begin moving seedlings to our cold frame for hardening off. This keeps plants from going into transplant shock, moving from a controlled environment like a greenhouse to harsher, more variable conditions outdoors. This past Friday and Saturday, we were able to catch up on all of our direct-seeded crops outside. Parsnips, spring carrots, snow peas, the first sugar snaps, direct seeded spinach, and early summer beets are planted. We also seeded the fields we used for late fall and winter vegetables into cover crop: mostly oats and clover, although we are doing a small trial plot of field peas.
We also received some good news at the end of last week. We have been granted our first commercial seed contract. We will be growing three varieties of seed for commercial sale next season for Sow True Seed, based in Asheville, NC. They have also asked us to grow out two rare seeds in their collection (an argyrosperma winter squash and a family heirloom ground cherry) that they hope to be able to give to seed farmers in 2017 and to offer in their catalog in 2018. We are both very excited to be able to participate in this meaningful work.
We often get asked, as farmers, what do we do in the winter? In East Tennessee, in zone 6b, we are actually able to still harvest bunching greens, spinach, lettuce, and carrots through much of the winter with minimal protection, but we spend much of the winter seeding our spring crop. By mid-February, we have all of our spring seedlings seeded in the greenhouse, and most of our spring root crops seeded in the field. By the first week of March, we are transplanting those seedlings outside into the fields, and only six weeks later, we are harvesting. With the help of high tunnels (unheated greenhouses), seeding into the field and transplanting into the field can happen even three weeks earlier!