A long, pleasant stretch of moderate fall weather has abruptly given way to a grim foretaste of January, as we scramble around trying to winterize everything we can think of, the ground stiffening like concrete under our feet. Long postponed tasks and projects begin to elbow their way up the priority list, as the recent paramount priority – harvest – cedes its place in sudden irrelevance. Even the hardiest of vegetables, the spinach, the kale, the leeks, the lettuce, can’t tolerate sustained low temperatures without damage. Cell walls burst, tissue yellows and desiccates. The plants survive, generally, but, unless protected, will not be marketable until and unless they survive until spring and grow again under the warming and lengthening days of that welcome season.
But we admit to a measure of relief at this (expected) turn of events – harvest has filled our days for much of the last six months, beginning with the earliest asparagus, greens and rhubarb, through the brief moment of the peas and the strawberries, the welcome return of those keenly anticipated blueberries, corn and tomatoes, and their eventual disappearance, and coming to an end with the unearthing of months old roots, grown sweet with the cool autumn air. After doing the harvest dance at an increasingly frantic pace as the season matures, suddenly the music stops, silenced by the arrival of the deathly cold.
This particular season was an especially fruitful one, with abundance and variety throughout, punctuated by a number of notable failures. As has been the case for the last few years, the spring of 2019 was a cool one-no unseasonably frosty mornings, but consistently cool weather, accompanied by a lot of rain. Our low-lying fields lay wet for much of the spring, and were periodically deluged thereafter, limiting our options and disrupting our planting plans. Our inability to plant in a timely fashion led to one of our more notable disappointments of 2019: a lack of sweet corn. The lack was not for lack of trying, but rather because of delayed planting. Our method of transplanting sweet corn doesn’t allow for a lot of latitude in planting dates-a week of waiting for the water to go down can ultimately mean a low-yielding, stunted planting. And one delayed planting can lead to the next being late to go in as well, with the result this year: low yields and an early end to corn season.
On the other hand, some of the successes outweighed even such a disastrous stumble. The long-awaited arrival of truly disease resistant basil varieties meant that we were able to continue harvesting well into September, just as in the days before the arrival of the disease. Experienced greenhouse and field managers ensured we were on schedule with sequential plantings of everything from arugula to zucchini, and the flow of lettuce was uninterrupted from May through November (although it has recently frozen). Our first time growing early broccoli in many years met with success, though much of our late plantings were ruined by disease. We also resumed growing Brussels sprouts after a long hiatus, and had reasonably good results until the aphids overcame the plants late in the season. Onions and garlic both provided bumper crops of high-quality bulbs, though, as always, they were sold out well before the farm stand closed.
Other crops were neither outright failures nor unmitigated triumphs. Apples made an appearance (unlike their conspicuous absence last year), but were challenged by the conditions of early spring and perhaps by our inability to provide adequate attention to this unpredictable crop. We have hired a new member of the management team for next season who has extensive experience with organic apples in the Northeast and who will be able to prioritize them over the next several years, hopefully leading to more consistent, high-quality crops. Potatoes were also a disappointment, another victim of the wet spring-we were unable to plant them where we had intended to, and ended up getting them in late into an inadequately prepared area, with predictably unsatisfactory results. And I should mention the sudden disappearance of about an eighth of an acre (maybe 1000 lbs or so) of carrots, destroyed during the course of a single day in late October, just as we were set to harvest. The perpetrators of this crime left many calling cards, and had returned to the scene when I discovered it-honking softly and eyeing the nearby beets.
This weekend we said goodbye to the final group of our seasonal crew – the long-serving ones who weathered (and I mean really weathered) the whole season. From the earliest spring days in the greenhouse when it was a thrill to be wearing T-shirts, to the endless heat of this years’ July, to the frigid temperatures they battled this week, this group unfailingly smiled, worked, and worked some more. Our endless thanks to them for making this season happen.
On balance, the season was a rewarding one, with many more high points than low, and unlike last season, when poor germination led to a notable absence of overwintered parsnips this spring, we should have a fine crop of super-sweet, tender parsnips to dig in April, 2020 the first real sign that the winter yet to come is in retreat.
We hope you were able to share and enjoy the fruits of our labor this season, and hope you continue to do so for many years to come. Thanks for your continued patronage, and we hope you enjoy some winter rest!
-Brian Cramer and the Hutchins Farm Team
From left to right: Maria and Ted taking down the blueberry net, Zach winding up row cover, Louisa and Huey heading off to cover next year’s strawberry plants with hay.
November 2019 Newsletter – Season Wrap Up