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!
This is the last scheduled week of the regular season CSA. Thank you to everyone for your support and participation this season! Please remember to bring bags to bag your veggies in this week so that we can make an accurate inventory of the bins that we have. I will try to continue to send pictures and updates over the winter. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
This week’s share includes: sweet potatoes, winter squash (mostly butternut although we may need to give out something else too), carrots, other mixed root veggies (beets, rutabagas, and turnips), spinach, head lettuce, leaf lettuce, kale or chard, cornmeal, or choice of herb.
The Thanksgiving meal causes much stress to so many…what new recipes to try, how to copy Grandma’s recipe perfectly, how to accommodate the vegan, the vegetarian, and the gluten-free guests and all at the same time, etc. For us, the Thanksgiving meal has always been simple and easy. Essentially, we take the bin that you are receiving this week and turn it into a meal, whatever that is in the given season. This year we are making mashed sweet potatoes, roasted veggie tart, kale salad, and pumpkin cheesecake. Mom will make a roasted chicken and dressing (from our cornmeal) and sis will make the appetizers: veggies with horseradish dip (the horseradish comes from the farm, too) and little snacks like cheese, olives, and pickled okra.
Above is the roasted veggie tart. Roasted veggies (peeled, cut into small cubes, and roasted with olive oil and rosemary for 1 hour…remember to stir often) are very versatile. They are one of Evan Shea’s and Lalo’s favorite snacks. They can also be served with eggs for breakfast, blended or semi-blended into a soup, added to lentils with some Moroccan spices for a great winter meal, served with cider glaze or goat cheese as a side dish, or made into a tart or individual tarts. I use 2 rutabagas, 2 turnips, 4 beets, and 6 carrots for each 8-9″ tart, as well as a sprig of rosemary, 1/4 of an onion and a couple cloves of garlic. You can also add white potatoes or parsnips. I make a gluten-free tart crust from tapioca starch, coconut flour, egg, olive oil, and water, but you can easily use pre-made pizza dough or puff pastry.
This week’s share will include: carrots (man are they pretty!), beets, sweet potatoes, dry black turtle beans, Tennessee Red Cob cornmeal (an heirloom TN corn from the late 1800s, grown and ground on our farm, non-GMO and gluten-free), spinach, head lettuce, leaf lettuce (a trial mix that has knocked our socks off…of course it has been warmer and wetter than normal with few extremes), choice of green, and choice of herb. Next week we will also hand out butternut squash and probably some type of root veggie that seems good for Thanksgiving.
If this is your last pick-up (every-other-week shares or anyone who is taking a long Thanksgiving vacation), please remember to bring your gray bins and bags to put your veggies in (even if you are doing winter share). Our last regular CSA pick-up is Saturday, 11/21.
If you are doing the winter share or are a Sustaining Member paying in payments, please remember that your payment is due Monday 11/16.
Winter shares will start Tuesday, 12/1. We will have the following pick-up locations:
Sequoyah Hills 5-5:30
Fountain City 6/6:15-6:30
or you can pick up at the farm.
Thank you to everyone for your support this season. Please remember applications for next season are due 12/15/15 and payments are due 1/15//16.