This October has an absolute pleasure for fieldwork—cool mornings, warm daytimes, plenty of sun, and very little rain. Almost makes the non-stop rain of June, July, and August seem like a distant memory, right? Not exactly. For us, with so much riding on our ability store a winter’s worth of food, the effects of a wet summer ripple on. All the winter squash, save for the spaghetti, took a hit, but the biggest losses were sustained by the kuri and bonbon; less than 5% of the set fruit actually made it out of the field. This loss was especially painful given that last winter I decided to increase the space devoted to these varieties. It seemed like a smart move at the time. Demand for kuri and bonbon was on the rise, so in the zero-sum game of trading this variety for that, I surrendered a few beds of butternut. In the ever-changing game of “Match the Supply to the Demand,” however, weather is always the x-factor. Butternut may not be as sweet or as velvety as kuri or bonbon, but it’s reliable, both in productivity and in shelf life; in an iffy season, it’s the horse to beat. Hindsight being 20/20, we should have kept things as they were. Oh well. At least the spaghetti rocked out. This year I tried two new varieties, and it looks like they’ll make it all the way to Thanksgiving. That’s more that I usually get out of spaghetti, and on par with what I would gotten from kuri or bonbon, so perhaps we break even after all.
Leaving non-edible crops to rot in field is a fact of farming and pretty straightforward, but things get more complicated from there. When it comes to storage potential, not all harvested crops are created equal. A cabbage with flecks of brown in the stem may be fine up to January, but probably not April; surface nicks in any crop are only skin-deep for a while, but eventually they serve as a portal for bacteria, yeasts, and mold; small roots are quicker to go limp than large ones. In order to maximize the value of what we harvest, we carefully inspect every green, fruit, and root and sort accordingly. Since date isn’t always the best indicator of shelf life, we’ve adopted the term “First Out” to identify which bins should be…you guessed it…first out. At one goofy point we may have labeled these bins “Use it or Lose It,” or “Are You Sure You Want to Sniff That?”, but given how much of our operation is visible to the public, getting too snarky didn’t seem wise. Irreverent labels are good for a laugh, but they risk undermining our own goal of educating eaters on what it takes to eat seasonally. Decomposition is a fact of life, but if we can understand it, we can live with it, and enjoy some delicious meals along the way.
As the fieldwork winds down, the fun stuff ramps up. Three weekends ago, Peter and Jen outfitted the big trailer with some scavenged hay bales for a real-deal hayride down to Peter’s pick-your-own pumpkin patch. CSA members found pumpkins of all shapes, colors and sizes, and a few lucky kids got to drive the tractor. Dan and I have also been busy leading field tours. Within three weeks, we hosted a horticulture class from SUNY Farmingdale, several AP environmental science classes from Jericho High School, and a cover crop field day co-sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. And there’s more to come. We’re hosting another fig swap and sale at the October 30 farm stand, and we’ve got something special up our sleeve for Halloween. You'll have to see it to believe it.