September 17, 2010

DENIS THOET: Many veggies still growing as Jack Frost delays his arrival

In a good year — and this is a good year — the slide into fall is the best part.

Recent cool weather has pushed summer behind us, but there has been no frost, not even a prediction of frost for the coming week. That means we can keep ripening our tomatoes on the vine, keep hoping we might get another picking of green beans, delay harvesting our first crop of sweet potatoes. Each good day adds a little bulk to the carrots and beets. Despite declining daylight hours, things are still growing.

In recent years, we have been touched by frost as early as Aug. 27 — just enough to turn the field tomatoes watery and unsalable and put a halt to the growing season (except for leeks, kale, parsnips, celeriac and Brussels sprouts, of course).

Prodigious onion and garlic crops have been brought in to cure — just about anywhere we can find space to put them. Dry beans lie on sheets in the upstairs room. The double garage is filled with ripe and nearly ripe tomatoes of all sizes and varieties waiting to be shared among our CSA members (Community Supported Agriculture). Many more are still on the vine in the field and greenhouse, waiting to be picked. Potatoes are mostly still in the ground and growing — their foliage still lives, a rare sight on this farm at this time of year.

Winter squash — butternut, buttercup and delicata — failed to achieve their potential, perhaps because of drought, bugs and lack of sufficient human attention. They will be cleaned up and dropped in the share baskets this week and next, certainly not enough to carry anyone into fall or winter.

As the days shorten, the work day changes. Gone is the 6 a.m. jaunt into the garden to get some of the heavy work out of the way before the heat of the day, with breakfast from 8-9:30 a.m.; work until noon, and then another spurt after lunch until quitting time at 4:30-5 p.m.

Now everyone is up at 7, with breakfast until 8, when the newspaper is shared, with special attention to the horoscopes, Dear Annie and Hints from Heloise. Anna and Mike are Aries, Caitlin and I are Gemini, and Michele is a Leo. The list of tasks ahead is looked at and priorities set.

In July or August, the list would call for a lot of transplanting; a lot of wheel hoeing in the raised beds and paths; a lot of mulching and putting compost on tomatoes, squash and Brussels sprouts; a lot of irrigating and hand-watering, and a lot of harvesting of greens, summer squash, cucumbers, beans and our biggest garlic crop ever. And there are always weeds to pick.

Last Tuesday’s list called for cleaning up various parts of the garden; scything buckwheat ground cover wherever it was still standing and generally beginning the process of closing up the garden for winter.

This is week 15 in our 20-week CSA season. Our members have been carting off 10-12 pounds of veggies per week for a small share, and 20-22 pounds for a large share. A small share usually serves a small family or couple, and a large share usually two families.

It is often a challenge to devour all those vegetables before the next week’s load arrives. And, surprise! Some people just don’t like beets or kale or kohlrabi. That’s why we have “extra” baskets in the Share Room for people to discard what they don’t want or for others to take more. Usually, it works out fine.

For those who think that fresh, local, organic food is prohibitively expensive, the numbers tell a different story. If a small share ($350) receives 10 pounds of food per week, the cost is $1.75 per pound; for a large share ($500) at 20 pounds a week, the cost is $1.25 per pound. Overall, I think we can match or beat the supermarket’s everyday prices.

This is also the best time of year for another reason: the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity is Sept. 24-26. We are going Sunday because that is the day of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association 5K Road Race. Long Meadow Farm usually fields a team — the Fast Foodies — of 2 to 4 runners, the only CSA team in the event.

Denis Thoet and his partner, Michele Roy, own and manage Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner,

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