Our next CSA distribution will be Monday September 24 and Thursday September 27. The continued glorious, cool weather is starting to mean threats of light frost in our valley, and so we’re beginning to plan for the end of summer crops and the transition to fall produce. Our first real chance of frost is this Saturday evening, and we’ll be holding an open work day for CSA members who wish to come help us get ahead (more below). Members will start to see the reduction or end of many items over the next few weeks, though many new fall crops are growing and will hopefully be ready soon.
MANAGING EARLY FROSTS
This is the time of year we start thinking about frosts. While mid-October is the average first frost date for central Missouri, down in this protected valley we usually start seeing mild frosts around mid-September. Any calm, clear night forecast for the low 40s can and usually does produce a light frost on low-lying areas that can damage or kill sensitive summer crops like tomatoes, beans, basil, zucchini, okra, peppers, and more. On nights like this, we need to cover any sensitive plantings with fabrics to hold in heat and keep frost off; often these fabrics freeze while protecting the plants beneath. Thus one of the stresses of fall is juggling nightly frost protection with our normal workload; every post-frost morning these covers need to be taken off or the sun will roast what’s underneath during the day.
In addition, once a harder killing frost threatens (likely sometime in the next 3-4 weeks) there is always a huge pulse of work involved in harvesting all the remaining fruit (beans, tomatoes, peppers, etc) that will otherwise be damaged as the plants die, then storing and trying to sell/distribute that mass of produce while lots of other farmers are doing the same thing. All this happens in addition to the normal routine of managing and harvesting all the growing fall crops (greens, cabbages, root crops, squash, etc.) that are usually going strong in the cool weather they prefer. So mid-September through early November can be an especially crazy time for us.
SATURDAY PRE-FROST PARTY
With Saturday night forecast for 40ºF, there’s a good chance (based on repeated experience) of the light frost in our protected valley. Previous years, we’ve worked hard to protect everything and try to extend the harvest season of summer crops as long as possible, to maximize our market income. This time, given how productive the season has been, and how busy fall can be, we’re going to intentionally start cutting back summer produce early to try and spread out both the fall workload and the inevitable huge fall pulse of post-frost vegetables.
Thus we’re going to spend Saturday covering some beds while doing a final harvest/rip-out of others. In an email earlier this week, we offered the possibility of CSA members coming out to help on this busy day, which should have glorious weather and a good chance to take part in and learn more about farm management at this time of year. Any attending helpers will get to take home a nice pulse of pre-frost produce like green tomatoes, which will also start showing up in shares next week. We like the idea of getting ahead on such harvests, to spread out these items over many weeks instead of one intense pulse. It’ll also likely lower our blood pressure in a few weeks when harder frosts arrive and we don’t have to deal with everything at once. This decision makes a lot more sense under a CSA system than a market system, where in the latter we’d want to squeeze every last penny of income out of each bed rather than accepting that we’ve achieved our goals for the year and can back off early. There’s enough fall produce coming on that we don’t expect people to be too disappointed at losing a few weeks of okra or cherry tomatoes.
THIS WEEK’S PRODUCE
NEW! Green tomatoes We love green tomatoes sliced & pan-fried in cornmeal and salt, but they also make very good chutneys, pie fillings, and more. Read more about using green tomatoes in this blog post from last year.
NEW! Winter squash (Pie Pumpkin OR Delicata) Our apologies, but we’ve since taste-tested the Delicatas and were not at all happy with them. We don’t have enough pumpkins for everyone so haven’t yet decided what to do. This hasn’t been a great year for a variety of cucurbits, winter squash included, and yields are disappointing. We don’t have enough pie pumpkins for everyone (not even for all full shares), so will give out either one pie pumpkin or two delicata squash to the full shares; part shares will hopefully get one delicata each. If you have a strong preference, leave a comment on your survey.
Swiss chard Holding steady as a good cooking green. Try it in calzones or on pizza.
Green beans (maybe?) Probably near the end of their season, maybe through next week? Partly depends on frost over the weekend.
Cherry tomatoes These will be ripped out on Saturday. Monday shares will get some, Thursday possibly depending on harvest (if so, eat them right away as they’ll be older than usual).
Slicer/sauce tomatoes We’ll be ripping out the earlier slicer/saladette planting on Saturday, leaving the later planting of slicer/saladette/sauce until a true killing frost. Thus the proportion of sauce tomatoes in shares will continue to increase. This is a good time to start canning and/or freezing sauce or even just roasted tomatoes.
Okra This, too, is slated to be ripped out on Saturday, meaning Monday will be the last distribution day as it won’t store until Thursday. It’s been a good okra year and everyone who’s asked has gotten several rounds of bulk okra, so we don’t feel bad cutting this off at all. Like cherry tomatoes, any Thursday people who come out to help on Saturday will probably get some if desired.
Sweet pepper mix We’ll definitely be protecting these, as they’re still loaded with fruit and we love peppers. We’ll keep them going as long as we can.
Hot peppers After two weeks of intense harvest on all varieties, we’re going to back off again and let quantities rebuild. We’ll likely return to the take-it-or-leave-it combination of Jalapenos, Anaheims, and a few Thai/Cayennes.
Garlic: Bogatyr (long stem) is a good general-purpose hardneck. Lorz (short stem) is another softneck of uncertain quality, like last week’s Tochliavri.
Summer squash Cool weather means these are growing slowly, but should stick around a bit longer. We’ll cover these on Saturday night.
We’ll stick with 4 herb bundles/full share and 2/part share this week. Almost certainly the last week for basil, if it even makes it through this week. Basil does not like cold. There’s some cilantro growing that we hope will be ready for harvest before the tomatoes get zapped by cold.
Basil Maybe? Depends on frost situation.
Thai basil Maybe? Depends on frost situation.
Lime basil Maybe? Depends on frost situation.
Dill leaf (limited quantity)
Crops close to readiness include baby greens mix & pac choi. Crops growing for fall/winter shares include cabbage, mustard greens, radishes, turnips, leeks, lettuce, parsnips, beets, carrots, spinach, cilantro, dill, and more. Sweet potatoes and the remaining winter squash are also nearly ready for harvest. Something to look forward to if you’re tiring of the same mix of summer produce.
MEET THE NEIGHBORHOOD OWL
In the last week, an especially friendly Barred Owl has been hanging around our smaller growing area nearly constantly, perching on various fence posts and allowing us to get quite close. This is something we love to see; a natural predator of problematic pests like rabbits and voles, finding a comfortable home on the farm. We’re about ready to name it, and are half-wondering if it’s the young one we observed back in April.
FEEDING FARM ANIMALS ON SALVAGED CROPS
Fall is a great season for increasing the percentage of on-farm food our animals eat. The pigs in particular will happily eat most things (other than okra & peppers), such as the half-ripe watermelon above left. We’re ripping out bean plants as they lose production, but before they die (above right), creating large pulses of healthy legume greenery that both pigs and goats love. Sweet potato greens, green tomatoes, unripe (or overripe) tomatillos, and more are all fair game for healthy and nearly free animal feed (as long as we don’t sell the pigs).
MAKING ROASTED SAUCES
Various roasted sauces are a real staple of our diet this time of year. It’s so easy to cut up a few trays of mixed items such as tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, garlic, and onions, roast them, then blend into tasty sauces. Above is a large batch of roasted tomatillo sauce, from the last harvest for this year. I roasted three full sheets of halved tomatillos, plus two mixed sheets (like above left) of Anaheims, Poblanos, Jalapenos, a large red onion, and a full head of German Extra Hardy garlic. All were tossed with olive oil before being spread on the sheets and roasted at 450ºF for 25 minutes. I then used a food processor to blend them into a rich, tasty sauce with salt added to taste, and some chopped fresh cilantro. This produced about 5 quarts, some of which was frozen for later use (such as at the Fall Fiesta/Goat Roast in October), while some was kept for fresh use on fried eggs, roasted potatoes, rice, and much more. The exact same method works with tomatoes and doesn’t need any additional spices or flavorings if using good farm-fresh ingredients whose flavor speaks for itself.