We failed with brussels sprouts this year. We failed bad; like a teamster trying to squeak his 19-ft trailer under a 17-ft viaduct. It was a total disaster. Brussels were supposed to be our primary fall crop but now it’s mid-November and I don’t expect to harvest a single one. It’s a huge disappointment. And we aren’t alone. Almost everyone around here struggled with brussels this year. For most folks, us included, the problem was aphids. October was unusually warm, allowing aphids to survive later than normal. At the same time it was cold enough to chase off all the wasps and ladybugs – the aphids’ primary predators. Unconstrained, the aphids quickly overwhelmed our brussels. There was little we could do.
I love brussels, whether I can grow them or not. Luckily, a couple local growers were able to bring in a crop. (Need I mention they were the most experienced growers at our market?) They were successful while we were not, because they grew their brussels for an earlier harvest date. Like most local growers we shot for an October/November harvest, transplanting our starts in late July. This left us in the field for the October aphid apocalypse. The two successful and experienced growers harvested in September, missing the aphids completely. Well, live and learn. Fortunately, I was able to buy several pounds of fantastic, local brussels from them.
Continue reading Brussels Sprout Washout
It’s fall again and we’re planting garlic again. Work like a metronome ticks out my life. Repetitive tasks set the rhythm and mark the time, blurring everything in between. We’re closing the poultry coop at night – that means another day is over. I’m loading the trailer for market- it must be Saturday, a week has passed. Gheda’s paying our taxes – a fiscal quarter is done, three more months down. And now, Adam is planting garlic. We’re planting garlic yet again – this time a whole year’s gone by. We’re right back where we started. Are we any smarter? Any wiser? I’d like to think so. But who can tell?
It was Autumn a year ago, during garlic planting, that we decided to make a go of the farm. That’s when we decided to take it from a hobby garden to a business. The intervening year has been productive; we incorporated a business, got insurance, grew a lot of food, sold a lot of food, made a busload of new friends, earned some money, paid some bills, preached the good news of local, sustainable agriculture and went more or less sleep deprived for months. I hesitate to draw any conclusions about the year. Did we do any good? Did we waste a lot of time and energy? I avoid questions like that. All I know is that we’re setting up for another year, wholeheartedly believing we can do better than we’ve done up to now. There’s redemption to be found in looking forward.
Continue reading Garlic Time Again
This year I let all our fennel go to seed, never harvesting more than a few bulbs. I know, it looks bad for me. Still more evidence of my fundamental sloth and incompetence, some might say. Fortunately, it’s different this time, because this time I had a plan. And my plan was this: I was going to let them bolt. Yep. That’s it. I was going to let them bolt. You see, this year I wasn’t in it for the fennel bulbs. Instead, I wanted to harvest fennel pollen. Unfortunately, after harvesting the pollen, I’m not sure what to do with it. Of course we’re going to eat a bunch. And there is a good market for fennel pollen. It’s a big market and can be quite lucrative (the pollen brings $20-$40/oz). But despite harvesting the entire patch, I only have a few ounces, too much to eat but nowhere near enough to make it pay.
Probably because of the glaringly, half-baked nature of my fennel plan, our farm partner, Adam, was… I’ll say… skeptical. Every week he wanted to cut some plants for market. “People are begging for bulbs,” he’d plead. But like a desperate, degenerate junkie, I couldn’t deviate from the plan. I wouldn’t. I was on the verge of a huge pollen score. I couldn’t just quit.
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It’s a tired old garden saw but it’s true: big garlic cloves grow big garlic bulbs. And, at least where garlic is concerned, bigger is definitely better. In the kitchen small bulbs are a pain. They take longer to peel. They’re hard to handle. They slow you down. And they often taste “hotter” than bigger bulbs of the same variety. At the market, it’s almost impossible to sell small bulbs. People are used to seeing garlic of a certain size and while they gobble up anything larger, they flat refuse to go small. In the field all the growers I know try to manage bulb size by only planting the largest cloves. That’s certainly what we do. The problem is that seed garlic comes as whole bulbs. And many bulbs, especially the softneck varieties (like the Silverskin sold in grocery stores), are a melange of different sized cloves. There are little ones and there are big ones. There are runts and there are giants. Plant a runt, get a runt. Plant a giant, get a decent size bulb.
Continue reading Fall Garlic