Weekly Farm Update, November 8, 2012

It's Thursday again and the sun is shining although a bit cold still!  I seem to always write about the weather, but then our lives here at the CSA farm are governed by the weather. This time last week time it was so HOT! Realy HOT! I started to get worried that it might not rain again until next autumn (March/April 2013) and Frank for heaven’s sake just decided to plant a whole block of small seedlings into a bock where we have no access to irrigation!. Friday was hot too and I thought our (weather) risk taking was going too far. But then Saturday came (our Hill Street Farmers Market Day) and we got soaking wet; rain, rain and more rain. Not so nice for us, but great for little baby seedlings! (And then to know that until September this same block we could not plant because it was too wet due to all the heavy winter rains we have had.!!!)  

We are taking these types of risks all the time throughout the year, with every single crop. Time and labour constraints, but especially the impacts of unforeseeable weather events (which seem to happen more and more) make our job very challenging.  This week we had some little night frosts again, just when we planted all the Curcubitas (melons, courgettes and the like) and they got damaged substantially. (We could have protected them from the frost with special frost cloths which I have on our wish list for next year as well as some plastic greenhouses to grow more crops out of season and protected from the weather). 

Growing for us should be all about growing with the seasons (growing for quality and nutrient density) and reducing risks as much as possible. Irrigation when it’s too dry, protection from frosts, especially late frosts, bird and rabbit control, pest and disease management. This is relatively easy when you grow just one crop like potatoes, or kiwifruit or leeks. It becomes a different story when you crop over 30 different vegetable crops and a have an orchard as well.  Spring is good for growing leafy crops and our baskets have predominantly been filled with those lately.  To balance the crops a bit more we do buy in from other growers and the organic wholesaler sometimes.  This week we noticed that even the wholesaler in Napier has difficulty sourcing organic crops. Here is this week’s list of veggie crops of the national Organic wholesaler.  

  • Asparagus OFNZ
  • Beetroot  AQ
  • Beetroot With Tops UNC
  • Kumera - Beaureguard AQ
  • Kumara - Nthn Rose AQ
  • Kumara - Red AQ
  • Kumara - Red PP 700gm AQ
  • Lettuce - Iceberg UNC
  • Lettuce - Fancy Red UNC
  • Lettuce - Fancy Green UNC
  • Lettuce - Buttercrunch UNC
  • Lettuce - Cos UNC
  • Parsley - Curly UNC
  • Silverbeet UNC
  • Crown Pumpkin AQ

In essence just 7 different items, of which 3 are uncertified (UN) and nothing is certified with Biogro nz.  This is the stuff you would likely find in the organic shops. As you have been made aware of with the egg story, certified organic means different things depending on whom you are certified with. This could be a whole new topic for another newsletter which I would prefer to leave for Frank .

I ordered beetroot and asparagus this week, but while doing the pack out on Wednesday we realized that both had not arrived. We are small fish  for the wholesaler and things like this happens sometimes. We had to go back to the garden and harvest more fresh leafy greens!  I show you this for 2 reasons;

  1. We would like you to understand that in late spring there is not much (certified organic) local  produce around in New Zealand. It is in between winter stored root crops and summer fruit crops! Seasonal spring crops are leafy! I think we did a marvelous job coming out of the wet winter and still having variety in the baskets.  It has been a very hard season for carrots this year, not just at our place, but both Hawkes Bay growers and Canterbury growers have had to deal with long periods of excessive rain.  We would have loved to include more carrots, they are just not there, unless we harvest our own (woody left over’s from winter), which we think are past their due by date.
  2. It also shows the range of certified organic produce (or lack of options). Over the past two weeks we have included Bas’s potatoes and leeks in the baskets.  Bas is spray free, non organic, but right next door.  He has been very interested in what we do and over the past year and a half or so we have been developing a neighbourly friendship.  We like to support his interest in ecologically friendly growing and hope it will make him see that it is possible for him too. We can learn a lot from each other as Bas has great knowledge of the area and commercial larger scale arable vegetable growing.  

One of the reasons to include his produce was Labour Day and Hawkes Bay anniversary a few weeks ago (Wholesalers closed in Hawkes Bay  from Friday through to Monday;  we could not order anything) and due to last week’s family illness we felt we did not have enough variety in our harvest share bags and decided, contrary to our 100% organic policy, that it was better to add an extra item that was local and spray free than to add nothing else.

Up until that time we have left Bas’s produce out of the bags and made it only available through the online shop and at Hill Street where people can decide for themselves if they want our organic or non organic.  However, the decision was made under exceptional circumstance and very frustrating. Our intention is not to make this a regular thing but it made us realize that sometimes we are rather vulnerable.  We like your view on our 100% certified organic policy (and by which certifier/standards as Frank is also seriously upset on how organic orchards are managed in NZ) and are wondering if we are making it too hard on ourselves?  Should we change it to something like ”Mostly certified organic (by whom?), but spray free or natural if more local and/or not enough variety available”? What is more important to you: certified organicness or variety in your basket?  (Franks comment since I have written this piece is that this is rubbish, he grows for food quality not towards standards politically correct or not, but he does do a whole lot of extra work because of it. Eg. Spraying of orchard fruit is done with very ‘soft’ sprays which are also effective but do not last like ‘hard’ sprays and thus require more care than standard approved and used conventional or even BioGro approved sprays).

We want to and need to develop our CSA further both practically growing wise and logistically. We like your feedback on what you value most and what makes you a proud Wairarapa Eco Farms CSA member?  

Good news is that we are moving into the right time for growing and we have a wonderful new irrigation system to reduce the risks of summer heat for all but one of the blocks.  There is great variety on the horizon and every week from now should be better than the last! Until we hit autumn and we load you with marrows galore! We let summer come, we let the sun shine inside and out.  This is not the time to give up and be pessimistic. We have learned from another winter and spring CSA , give us your ideas, so we can tackle next winter all heads up! Photo: sample of our Summer CSA produce.

 This week’s CSA Shares:

Fruit Shares: Oranges, kiwifruit and an avocado.

  * please note - unfortunately beetroot and asparagus that we'd ordered for you this week didn't arrive from the organic wholesaler :(

 Small Veggie Shares: *

1.2kg potatoes (from Bas), 1 bak choy or 1 cauliflower, 1 bag of mixed chard, 1 bunch of baby leeks, 150g spinach or 80-100g Italian parsley.

 Large Veggie Shares: *

1.2kg potatoes (from Bas), 1 bak choy or 1 cauliflower, 1 bag of mixed chard, 1 bunch of baby leeks, 150g spinach or 80-100g Italian parsley, 500g broad beans, 1 Chinese cabbage, 120g endive, 1 lettuce, and 1 bunch of radishes.

 Have a great week and I look forward to your views and ideas once again,

 Josje and the farm team.