The fields are erupting with food! The past month been a blur of non-stop harvesting, and now that the fall crops are coming in, our biggest challenge is finding enough bins to hold it all. It’s a lot a weight to carry, but luckily I had a eureka moment back in July that revolutionized the way we haul food. I was passing the eggplant on my way to the kale when I noticed one row was ready to be picked. With all the harvest tubs back at the Tin House, I looked around for something else to hold the twenty or so eggplant I expected to find. Standing nearby, idle since their last mulching job, were five wheelbarrows. I grabbed a wheelbarrow and a pair of clippers and directed Sean, our summer intern, to harvest the row. He completed the job in five minutes, and the several dozen eggplant he collected barely covered the bottom of the wheelbarrow, i.e., he could have picked hundreds and still had room to spare. Without realizing it, Sean demonstrating the inefficiencies of our old method of hauling tubs—when a tub reached capacity part-way down a row, the harvester would have to carry it out and return with a new one. The wheelbarrow, on the other hand, is a one-shot deal, with none of the heavy lifting. At that moment, I resolved to switch all of our fruit crop harvests (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini) to wheelbarrows, and I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner. But better to discover the wheel later than never.
The fall storage crops follow a predictable harvest schedule. Garlic in July, onions in August, winter squash and potatoes in September, sweet potatoes in October. This year we planted four trial rows of potatoes and sweet potatoes in Pond Field (a.k.a the berry field), in an attempt to learn which vegetable crops can tolerate its heavy clay soil. Both crops grew vigorously enough that we felt we could count on a respectable harvest. That said, potatoes and sweet potatoes are difficult to harvest in wet conditions, so we decided to harvest the Pond Field crops early, while the August heat was keeping everything relatively dry. At that point, the potato tops had died back anyway, so there would be no trade-off in terms of yield. The sweet potato vines, on the other hand, were still going strong, so we expected a lightweight harvest—eight-ounce delicacies instead of three-pound whoppers. As it turned out, the sweet potatoes were delicate, whopping, and every size in between. I’m sure there’s an expert somewhere who can explain the science behind it, but I’m just happy we got a decent haul and cleared the field.
Other fields are emptying out as well. We completed the onion harvest last week and there is an obscene amount of onions drying behind the Tin House. (If anyone wants the onion tour—a lap around the drying rack—it’s two minutes and full of anecdotes). This week the crew started harvesting the first of the winter squash—delicata, dumpling, and spaghetti—which are now curing on the greenhouse tables, alongside the sweet potatoes. For many people, August is the month of vacations and back-to-school preparations. For farmers, it is the beginning of a long period of heavy lifting. As I survey the food coming in, the writing on the wall has revised itself. Not only can we offer the winter share after all, we’d be crazy not to. When the full implications of Steve’s cancer hit me last month, I believed I had to scale back, and to formally announce it, so that I could relieve the pressure of outside expectations. Bringing CSA members into the loop, and knowing that they supported us, provided the relief I hoped it would. So did cancelling the late planting of broccoli and romanesco—crops that garner oooh and aaahhs when they make it to the Tin House, but which are just as likely to get zapped by a hard freeze (last year’s did). But other fall plantings proceeded according to schedule, and now we expect the harvests to be as abundant as ever. We're certainly not growing it for the rodents. So reap what you sow, sell what you reap, and bring on the winter share!