On our small little six acre plot of vegetables, we manage the garden fairly primitively. By primitive, I mean mostly using manual labor to plant, cultivate and harvest the crops. We do have a 75 horse power tractor and a spading machine that we use for tilling up the soil and we have a large mower that is called a brush hog for mowing down crops that are finished and mowing the grass around the garden. For all other means of managing the garden, we use our hands and bodies. We do use a couple farm trucks for hauling flats of transplants out to the field for planting and for hauling the harvest out of the field and down to the packing shed.
In a recent conversation that I had with a farmer friend of mine, we were discussing the differences between using a mechanical transplanter for setting out transplants verses transplanting by hand. We discussed that transplanting by hand can sometimes actually be quicker than using a mechanical transplanter, use less bodies for labor, less fuel to power your tractor, and less time hooking up the transplanter and keeping it filled with water. One must also consider that when you own a machine the machine itself costs money and it costs the farmer time and money to maintain the machine. In addition to practical discussion, there is a certain amount of love and energy that goes into each transplant when placed in the ground with your hands. When transplanting by had you are able to do a better job getting the transplants planted at just the right depth so the transplant is able to take root easier and grow to be a more firmly rooted plant. The major dis-advantage is the in-ability to plant perfectly straight rows when you’re planting by hand.
Following the transplating process, the rows must also be cultivated (or weeded). A farmer can use hoes, small garden tillers and hand weeding to cultivate the rows. Or a farmer can use a specialized cultivating tractor that saves time and labor, and sometimes money. But your specialized cultivating tractor will also cost you a pretty penny and the additional cost of keeping fuel in it and maintaining it. These are just a couple small steps that your favorite small family farmers have been thinking about this year as we spend lengthly hours, days, weeks and months keeping the field as weed-free as we are able with our little hands and gardening tools. At the end of the day when your knees, lower back and feet are sore from all the manual labor, a cute little cultivating tractor starts to sound really nice.
There is a cost associated with intensive manual labor that is absorbed by the laborers bodies. It might be “free” to weed a bed by hand on your knees, or you could say that it was at the cost of your personal agility and physical endurance. Bear in mind, these are no short little rows of carrots we’re talking about here. The rows on the farm vary from 200-250 foot beds. Thus far in our careers as young farmers we have chosen to grow our business slowly with as minimal amount of dept as possible. We could have started out with all the vegetable machinery equipment we would ever use and only owe an additional 30k + to the bank, but we feel we are doing the right thing by gradually acquiring used equipment as the years go by, slowly intergrating new machines on the farm as we learn how to use them and maintain them. This fall, we plan to purchase a use manure spreader to help up spread our fertilizer mechanically, rather than at the expense our bodies. And believe me, this is a wise investment, because after you’ve spent one day flinging crap with a pitch fork, you’d be on our side.
I have embraced manual labor thus far in my career. I believe that hard work and honest sweat can be the building blocks of a person’s character. I believe that hard work with meaningful purpose teaches discipline, perseverance and builds strength physically as well as emotionally. This is easy for me to say because I come from a long line of hard workers and I am a hard worker by nature. I feel that I enjoy my time spent off the farm, with my family and all other forms of leisure more richly that a person who might have more free time than they know what to fill it with. And with my biodynamic education, I feel that physical labor in the garden, is more than just hard work. When you’re working with these plants that have the ability to nourish and heal, all the while under direct exposure to the changing phases of the moon and the rise and fall of the sun each day, there is an un-deniable force that you’re working with out there apart from just carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and magnesium.
It’s amazing how much more you appreciate being somewhere if you had to walk, hike or bicycle a long distance to arrive. I gives you a deeper appreciation for music once you have to actually pick up an instrument and try to play one yourself and feel the vibrating tool that makes those beautiful sounds. You learn to savor bread once you have had to actually go thru the steps to make the bread yourself, rather than just pick one up at the grocery. What I’m getting at here, is once you’ve had to plant that seed with your fingers, transplant it out into the venerable field, cultivate it with your little hoe and bare hands you have a deeper relationship with your food and there is a different energy invested into the food then. The energy invested into a piece of food that was planted with a vacuum seeder, transplanted my machine, cultivated with a diesel tractor and harvested at last by hand and then placed on a conveyor belt to reel it from the field into a large harvest bin.
A potato is not a potato is not a potato. I am generally a very liberal person, in fact I was voted “most liberal” in my high school US History class. But I can be quite conservative in some ways also. Or you could call me “old school”. But the milk from a cow that was milked by hand is just not the same to me as a cow in a line up of cows milked by machine. And I am of the rare breed of person who is willing to pay more money and respect for that difference. While we are still a small family farm (and intend to remain that way) and are managing our farm using mostly physical labor to plant, cultivate and harvest our crops, we also face the reality that we may want to consider upgrading to more mechanical means of managing our fields, and potentially expand the gardens a little more as the years go by. I am morally governed person and I will have to morally convince myself and/or compromise with myself before we make to many advances. But my focus here is to recognize that there is a difference. The difference can sometimes be tasted, seen, or felt, but nonetheless the difference is there whether a person pays attention to it with their senses or not.
So….WHAT’S in the BOX???
Beets- Yeah, beets again! The tops are edible. If you plan on using them, cut them off and place them in a separate bag. The beet roots will store best in a plastic bag in the refrigerator with their tops cut off.
Shallots–These are small little gourmet French onions. They’re like onions, but a little less spicy. Does not need refrigeration. Store out of direct sunlight in a cool place.
Gr. Cabbage— Perfectly sized cabbages. Will store best in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Green Beans- They just keep coming! We have another succession coming on also! See suggestions below for blanching and freezing for longer storage.
Green Peppers- Beautiful blocky peppers. We get a little better at growing these every year!
Summer Squash, Zucchini, Patty Pan, and/or cucumbers-Plenty of summer squash, zucchini, and or patty pans to go around this week. They all taste the same, pretty much, just shaped and colored differently. This is a terrible year for cucumbers. I’m really sorry if you love them. It’s just a crummy year for them here, we’re hardly getting anything!
Red Norland Potatoes- These are so beautiful. I always forget how wonderful freshly dug potatoes are every year, until they come back around and astound me once again. Does not need refrigeration. But they may need a little cleaning. We don’t wash potatoes for you!
Basil- We thought tomatoes and Basil on the same week would be like a horse and carriage together. Remember that basil does not like to store for very long!!!!!!! Use as soon as possible, or store at room temp in a glass of water like you would with freshly cut flowers. USE ASAP!
Cherry Tomatoes or Tomatoes!- The cherry tomatoes are supposed to be orange. Do not wait for them to turn red! You may have also received heirloom tomatoes(abnormal shaping and scaring, these are great to eat, don’t judge them by their appearance). We’ll discuss that next week. Do not refrigerated tomatoes for peak flavor. If they need further ripening, just let them sit on the kitchen counter for a day or two. It doesn’t take long with these varieties not chosen for shelf life.
Eggplant- Most members received eggplant this week. Stores best in a plastic bag in refrigerator.
Next week! A short list of items that we may have next week, but will not promise to have. Due to the unexpectedness of the season, anything could pop up or go down hill in no time. Potatoes, Carrots, Swiss Chard, Basil, Eggplants, Tomatoes, Peppers, Green Beans, Peppers, onions