Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So what IS a CSA?

Young Eggplants--MINUS Colorado Potato Beetles

This question was posed to me this week. The simple answer could be a "subscription" garden... you pay your subscription for the season and get your regular installment of produce. But really, it is, and can be, so much more. Think about sustainable farming, think about knowing where your food comes from, think about getting to know your neighbors, think about supporting the local economy... Consumer Supported Agriculture is all of these things.

For us, our CSA garden provides us with a way to afford being able to produce high quality non-chemical food for our family and friends. We have the land, but there is so much more expense involved--including seeds, water and irrigation, mulch, natural soil supplements, time, and of course, a method of deterring the deer from the HUMAN food. (Yes, maybe the kids are right about this obsession with the deer...) Pushing the limits on our short growing season can also increase the monetary costs of the garden--a greenhouse, hoophouses, and row covers to protect those tender plants from frosts and also to encourage early production. It takes a bit of planning and work to get tomatoes by July 1 in Minnesota! All of these things have monetary costs, but the benefits SO outweigh the costs. And those costs are minor compared to the costs of produce shipped from various parts of the world so that we have the luxury of out-of-season produce.

In these days of Big Ag, it's difficult to support a family by farming alone. This is where Community Supported Agriculture--in the form of subscription gardening, farmer-direct meat purchasing, local farmers markets--make a huge difference. We are far from supporting our family with our CSA garden, but it does support our quest for a healthier style of eating and living.

And not only are you sustaining a farmer's way of living, but consider how that farmer is sustaining the earth. While we are not organic-certified, we grow our fruits and vegetables by organic methods. Last year that resulted in our 2 older sons going out in regular intervals with a jar of sudsy water and a knife to look under each leaf of the eggplants in search of Colorado Potato Beetle bugs, eggs, and larvae. The adult beetles and larvae were sent to drown in the jars while the orange eggs were smashed with a knife and scraped into the jar also. We had only a minor infestation so were able to curtail it with about 2 weeks of the intense "beetle search." The boys learned more than they wanted to about the life cycle of the nasty beetles, but they can identify them in a flash! In a conventional garden, we may have tried a plethora of nasty chemicals, only to find the beetles already had an immunity or developed an immunity to them, while questioning if we really should eat anything that was within 10 feet of the chemical. And then what could the after-effects of whatever was used be on beneficial insects? This is just one small example of how we take seriously our role as stewards of the earth.

So, what is a CSA??? It's building a network, it's protecting the earth, it's getting to know where your food comes from, it's supporting a farmer... and it's GOOD EATING!
PingTung Long Eggplant

Monday, January 25, 2010

Random thoughts on Monday...

Snowflakes in the backyard

It's back to winter here in MN. Over the weekend we had above freezing temps during the day with rain. Now it's about 20 degrees and blowing snow. Below zero is forecast in the next few days. It's a good time to think about greenhouses and planting! :-)

Who has checked out what was left in their freezer from last summer. Mike and I went through our 2 chest freezers and condensed down to 1. We found a lot of frozen rhubarb, broccoli, snowpeas, and cauliflower from the garden. Other treasures we discovered were frozen strawberries and corn (from another local farm). We decided it's time to start using this stuff up! So yesterday I thawed some rhubarb and made rhubarb cake--what a treat! It was like a little taste of spring in the midst of this bleak landscape of winter foods. (Now don't get me wrong--I love winter foods: comfort dishes like hotdishes, good keepers like squash and potatoes, canned fruits, etc. But that cake brought the odors of spring. It reminded us of fresh peas, greens, and, of course, rhubarb!) Tomorrow we'll be having a side dish of cauliflower with our supper. So I encourage you to dig in the freezer and see what you find!

During the school year, I teach piano lessons on Mondays. I have decided to incorporate a little "me time" into the schedule, because when I'm home the rest of the week there is NO TIME for mom time. We are busy with school, housework, and keeping our family fed! This means MOM is busy doing all those things! :-) So today, I had some extra time which I'm using right now to blog. As I was driving up our driveway this afternoon, I came across a small group of turkeys, which after looking it up in Google, I now know that it is correctly called a "rafter" of turkeys. There were about seven meandering across the driveway, no doubt eating some gravel which they need for digestion. Quite close to the turkeys was a small doe, poking through the woods. This has been a rather common spectacle on our farm. Since we are somewhat isolated and surrounded by a lot of woods, there are large populations of deer and turkeys.

You may wonder if these cause some problems in the garden. Short answer=YES. The turkeys haven't been much trouble (although they enjoy visiting our domestic turkeys when we raise them), but the deer have caused much anguish during my gardening career. Last year we completed a deer fence around the entire fence. Even though it's only 5 feet high, it accomplished it's task quite well. I think it was just enough of a deterrent that the deer figured they could just as easily get lunch elsewhere. Now that the snow is drifted about 3 feet deep around the deer fence, though, the deer have decided to come visiting once more. You see, I made the mistake of leaving an uncovered round bale of straw in the garden. I used part of it for mulching the strawberries, and was planning to use the rest this spring for the same purpose and in the raspberry patch. Even though there are about 7 strawbales outside of the fence, the deer felt a need to destroy that one partial bale INSIDE the fence. One day I sent Greg up to chase the deer away--there were at least 20 inside the fence! Most of them easily cleared the fence, though a few had their hind legs tripped up on it. So, plan B will probably be put into place this spring--topping the fence with electric strands and colored tape-flags. My kids think I'm obsessed with my no-deer-in-the-garden plans. I even have a Plan C and D! Well, someday when they wander up there for a snack of sugarsnap peas to find that every last one has been nosed out by the evil deer, they will understand.

One thing that I did today as I was enjoying some quiet was finish going through the FEDCO/Organic Growers Supply catalog. I was reading through the descriptions of all the organic soil amendments and resolved to test the garden soil again this spring and see if needs some additional rock powders, greensand, etc. We use no synthetic fertilizers in the garden, depending on rotation, compost, composted manure, and cover crops to boost the fertility. It seems to be working, if you look at this jungle of tomato plants. This picture was taken a couple years ago. Last year's tomato plants were even more massive and loaded with fruit. I will be given them a bit more space this year, since I anticipate an even better season!

Well, my free time is up! Time to go back to the cold and snow, and leave my garden daydreams for another time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

2010 is here!

2010! Yes, it's here! I have sent in my seed order, and expect all those little gems to arrive any day. The onions will need to be started soon, quickly followed by the tomatoes and peppers. What fun! Little growing plants in the house will help to send away the winter doldrums!

We are continuing our CSA garden this year. Last year we supplied food for 8 families, including our own. What an accomplishment! I look forward to another wonderful season this year! I have added a few different varieties of peppers and tomatoes to the mix this year, and I promise the jalapenos will have some heat! Last year, they were so mild our 4-year-old could munch on them fresh from the garden! Over the next few days I plan on posting more of the photos that I took last season. The collage above features (clockwise from top left) Brandywine tomato blossoms, onions and leeks ready for baskets, a variety of cherry and grape tomatoes, and baby melon plants ready to be set out.

I just finished the brochure for our farm items for the 2010 season. Watch for it in the mail or at Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls.