Hutchins Farm April 2014 Newsletter

Although the weather makes it seem like the growing season is a long way off, signs of spring are slowly appearing, and the untidy remnants of winter are receding into the shadows where we still stumble on them unsuspecting, grateful for the warmth, light and life that are surely coming. 

            Among the first stirrings of spring is the sprouting of parsnips. Nourished by sugars stored last summer in their now-prodigious roots, they begin to send up a few leaves in preparation for their second, final, reproductive season (they are biennials—growing vegetatively for a first season, then flowering the second).  Dug at this stage, before they convert their stored sweetness to sexual expression, they are incomparably tender and sweet.  Left in the ground a few more weeks, they would turn tough and woody, but now they are at the peak of perfection—and we have just dug and washed the two beds we left to overwinter.  As long as we avoid anthropomorphizing their sexual frustration (and their horror at being eaten) we are left to guiltlessly enjoy this brief, seasonal treat—delicious roasted, incomparable fried (try them shredded like latkes), sublime pureed or steeped in soup, a true delight in long simmered stews.  And, if I do say so myself, this is the nicest crop of parsnips I’ve yet seen. We’ll have them available self-serve on the porch for the next week or two in bags of between two and a half and three pounds for $5.  If you plan to store them for any length of time, make sure to cut out the growing point (where the leaves emerge a the top).

            Other self-serve items currently available include bagged compost and bagged potting soil from McEnroe Organic Farm in upstate NY, which has also been the source of the potting soil we use for our own plants for many years. Potting soil is available in 22 qt. bags for $10 each, or 5 bags for $45.  Compost is available in 40 lb. bags for $9 each, 5 for $40.

            Likely to appear during the course of the next week or so are the first, hardiest garden plants.  We’ll begin with lettuce, kale, cabbage, and onions, with a growing roster of plants as the weeks go by.  A more or less complete list of variety descriptions, and predicted availability dates, should be available on our website in the next day or two.

            Also among the long-awaited signs of spring is the emergence of the first spears of asparagus. As cold as it has been, we’re likely a little ways off from this momentous event, but a few warm days will go a long way toward goosing the asparagus out of its slumber. I’ll send out another (shorter) message when the asparagus arrives.

            We are planning on (finally) paving our parking lot sometime in the near future, which will entail closing access to our self-serve items for about 2-3 days.  As soon as we know them, we’ll include the dates in our phone message and post them online so customers can check and make sure they don’t make a wasted trip.

            We hope all of our faithful (and unfaithful) customers had the best winter they could, considering the circumstances.  Some unlooked for benefits of our long, cold travail include the forementioned parsnips, but may also include a robust crop of (cold-loving) garlic, and a reduction in the populations of some pests.  Doesn’t seem like adequate payment for the ordeal we’ve been through, but by the time we’re enjoying fresh garlic, the winter will be a mercifully distant memory.

Brian Cramer
Farm Manager

baby kale in the greenhouse

Around the farm 4/3/14

While it’s still pretty brown around here, the first signs of spring are starting to appear! Brian caught this one today – garlic popping its head up!

Around the farm 3/18/14

Snow is slowly disappearing…

Around the farm 3/5/14

It might be snowing outside, but it’s toasty in the prop house!

Around the farm 2/10/14

View from one of the orchards. It’s pruning time!

Around the farm 1/3/14

Hope everyone is safe and warm! What a way to break in 2014!

Around the farm 12/10/13

Winter has arrived!

Hutchins Farm End of Season 2013 Newsletter

As winter nears, the sun’s daily visits shorten to the point where it barely seems to have risen before it begins its descent.  Crazy fluctuations in the temperature keep us from settling yet into winter mode, but surely we know that 60 degrees on a mid-November morning in Concord, Massachusetts is an anomaly, and soon we’ll be leaning into a bitter wind, faces stung with cold and blowing snow, trudging carefully over the frozen ground to avoid the treacherous ice patches hidden beneath a deceptive dusting.  And, of course, there’ll be no really fresh vegetables or fruit.

Winter does have its charm: landscapes recently blanketed by a windless snow; the tang of wood smoke and its promise of warmth in the evening as the light leaches from the sky; sports that require the slippery surfaces that winter provides.  Supermarket produce is not one of winter’s charms, though it is (usually) better than none at all—my hat’s off to those who can live off roots, pickles and such all winter, but not I.  My general disappointment with the ‘fruits’ of winter—trucked in from Arizona, Florida and the like—just sharpens my anticipation for the moment when Concord begins again to bloom, when the sun climbs higher and stays longer, when the asparagus pokes up through the soil, the strawberries blush.  Winter, despite its rather thin consolations, is long and difficult—the promise of spring carries us through.

We had a productive season at Hutchins this year, though there were some tense moments.  Things seemed late to begin, and flooding in late May led to additional delays and a rushed execution of our usually deliberate routines.  Pest and disease outbreaks that I have adequately chronicled in other messages wreaked havoc with certain crops, and, in general, the various pitfalls and problems that beset any vegetable and fruit farm seemed arrayed against us in an unusually intimidating way.  And yet while we worried about whether we would harvest any potatoes at all, and whether late blight would cut a month off our ‘normal’ tomato season, and whether the heat in July would nip all our fall crops in the bud (so to speak), the produce rolled in.  The late, lamented Patrick McGrath’s carefully tended asparagus led off the season, followed by a good crop of strawberries and a great crop of blueberries.  As we struggled to produce early kale and cabbage (usually a cinch), we had fine, extended harvests of peas and spinach (usually a headache).  July was particularly worrisome, as summer crops just trickled in, and the brutal heat shut down the early crops and threatened to destroy the tender seedlings that would grow into the late crops—but then July ended, and with it went the heat and the rain, and we settled in to a long stretch of perfect weather.  Not hot, not cold, and, importantly, no rain.

People who don’t farm or garden tend to think that rain in all its forms is an unmitigated blessing for the grower.  When I get tired of hauling around irrigation pipe or remembering to shut off the drip irrigation in the evening, I can almost agree.  And yet, the weather this late summer and fall was a compelling example of why big growers in arid climates, where they calculate and deliver just enough irrigation water for their crops, consider a rainstorm to be a disaster.  Water makes everything grow, including fungus and bacteria.  So when we get a long stretch without rain and with low humidity, disease pressure is almost nonexistent.  As long as I’m careful to irrigate in a timely fashion, and in such a way that the leaves don’t stay wet for long periods, the dry weather is more of a blessing than rain would be.  I do reserve the right to whine a bit about the lack of rain (when there is a lack), and to rail (feebly) against the myopic meteorologists who blithely enthuse about the endless beautiful beach weather.  But I shouldn’t be taken too seriously…unless it gets really dry.

So late summer provided a delayed bounty, and without the usual accompanying rots, mildews, molds, blights, blasts and spots.  Although late blight showed up early (ironically), the tomatoes kept producing, maintaining their quality and fine flavor almost through mid-October.  I don’t think I’ve seen cleaner broccoli or cauliflower than we had this fall, and, after the temperatures dropped in late July, the beans started coming in beautiful and abundant.  And of course, the apples provided a crop like we see only when the planets are in perfect alignment—clean, delicious, and prolific.  And our numbers all came up in the annual lottery of hiring a seasonal workforce:  this year’s group were easygoing, enthusiastic field and farmstand workers whose commitment and demeanor made the stressful times easier, and the easier times fun.  And of course, the real key to our success, this year or any year, the sine qua non of any farm like ours:  dedicated, enthusiastic, well-informed, creative, flexible (‘cause we didn’t always have what you came for) customers.  Thanks for visiting us in the lean times and the fat, thanks for your appreciation of our efforts, your patience, good humor and loyalty.

We continue to set out a dwindling selection of produce on the porch for self-service sales, but supplies are running short and the weather’s getting cold, so it may not continue much longer. Here’s to a good winter, and we’ll see you in the spring.

Brian Cramer
Farm Manager
Hutchins Farm

Thank you!

Yesterday was the last day of the season at the farmstand- We’ve had a wonderful season thanks to you, our fantastic and faithful customers! Thank you for shopping with us, and weathering the ups and downs of growing in New England.  The van is packed and on its way to the Monday Central Square Farmers Market (12pm-5pm). Tomorrow we’ll start some self-serve on the front porch at the farmstand. Again, thank you all!

Pictured here is some of the fall crew- we never manage to capture all of us in one place at one time! Thank you to all our spring, summer, and fall crew members- Andy, Rachel, Jason, Audrey, Cait, Hannah G, Danielle, Will, Paul, Kate, Ben, Ramon, Hunter, Venus, Noelle, Hannah K, Justin, Mayn, Allison, Dan, Lilli, Abby, Kaitlyn, Ellen, Ronnie, Maria, and probably a few more people I am forgetting!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Fred Flintstone will be at the season’s last Belmont Farmers Market this afternoon, and the great pumpkin is making appearances at the farmstand. No autographs please!