Abbe Hills Farm CSA

  (Mt. Vernon, Iowa)
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There's water in the pond!

Greetings shareholders and farm friends,
Market tomorrow, Saturday, March 16, is at the Community Center at the east end of downtown Mt. Vernon, 11:00 until 1:00.  I'll have eggs; Charlotte will have bread.  It's possible a few early hoophouse vegetables might be there, too - from the smart farmers - not me.
It's been slow to get the hoophouse crops to grow here.  Starting in December, I planted spinach and lettuce mostly, plus radishes, chard, raab, and arugula.  But because it has been so cold, there have been many, many days when I should have been watering that I couldn't get the hoses thawed enough to get the water to run through them.  I think we're on a warming trend so it should be easy from now on.  Probably I'll be griping about how busy I am in two weeks when the frost is completely out and the oats are screaming to be seeded.
VERY GOOD NEWS!!!!  The pond by my house is full (as is the wetland by the road).  That means we can irrigate this summer.  The water level in the pond dropped five feet !!!!! last summer, and it was difficult to imagine how I'd be able to manage the irrigation in 2013.  The rain last weekend was highly destructive to fields that had been fall tilled or are without cover crops, and the runoff was enormous, but the good news is that the rain and fairly clean runoff from this farm mostly went into one of the water retention structures.  The forecast between now and the end of June is for continued drought, but I think we'll be OK.  Maybe not fabulous, but OK.
One family has already joined the 2013 CSA.  If you want to join, the registration form is on the website,  I had hoped to introduce you to the farm's FaceBook page today, but FaceBook and I are having a tussle, and right now, FaceBook is winning.  You might try looking to see if we have a site; it will be called "Abbe Hills Farm", and if you find it, please be my friend.  I think FaceBook will take me more seriously if it appears that I know people.  When my technology expert gets the page up and running correctly, that will be the place where I will post photos, upcoming events, news on short notice.  Hopefully it will give you a better idea of what happens around here, and will help you explain to your friends why they should become shareholders in Abbe Hills Farm CSA.
Hope to see you tomorrow,


New potatoes, garlic, summer squash. Little bit of rain was good.

Greetings shareholders,

This week, we have new potatoes, nice white onions, kale and collards, kohlrabi, bok chois, lettuce, fresh garlic, and cabbage.  I hope we can find enough broccoli, summer squash, and beets for everybody, too.  New potatoes are potatoes that were just dug and haven't had time for their skins to cure.  The red potatoes we dug at the end of last week are SOOOO yummy, especially the skins.  Don't peel them, just brush lightly and cook them skin and all.  Unfortunately, they - like the onions and garlic, aren't irrigated, so their yield will likely be reduced from what I had expected at the start of the season.  But they are just beautiful and taste so good.   Onions and garlic seem very nice, too. 

We keep the irrigation going six days a week, but rain is better.  We had 1" last Sunday morning, then .6" on Friday night.   Finally, a week with enough rain that we could still prove it 48 hours later!   It should have boosted the beets, broccoli, and squash to finally get big enough to harvest this week.  I sure hope so.  Gardens need about 1" of rain per week - and probably more with irrigation - in order to have high yields and good quality, well-shaped fruits.  I don't know how western growers do it.   Just keeping the soil moist enough to keep things alive is a pretty big challenge.  And our pond is shrinking fast, not because of irrigation so much, but more from evaporation and wind.  Luckily, it is quite deep so it still holds lots of water, and hopefully, it will fill up in the fall so the fish will be happy over the winter.

Heat this week is going to be tough on the broccoli, lettuce, chois, but most of the other things can take it. The winter squash, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes are looking marvelous with their plastic and straw mulch.  We've not had too many disease or bug problems, but I did notice lots of damage to leaves of many things from the wind on Friday.  Chard is pretty shredded and may not be harvestable for another week.  We'll figure it out when we get to the garden.

This week, we plan to dig the garlic and get it curing.  The garlic we give you will be fresh.  If you don't want to use it right away, leave it on the counter so it can dry out a little and it will keep longer.

Unfortunately, this is the first newsletter some of you are getting this season.  I had a hard time getting my lists all set up this spring, but I think everything is figured out now.  If this is your first note from me, please check out the past newsletters to find what's been going on around here this season.

See you this week,




growing food in spite of drought. Pickup is 4:30 until 7:00

Greetings shareholders,
This week, we'll have lots of lettuce, more marvelous bok chois, garlic scapes, a few small onions, kohlrabi, spring turnips, daikon radishes, kale and collards.  The Monday people will get more peas, and I think the Thursday people will get broccoli.  Beets, chard, onions, garlic should begin next week or the one after.
We're watering non-stop, or at least as much of each day as I can keep the pump up and running.  I'm sure glad I have a big pond. This is exactly the purpose for which it was built (although it hasn't been as dry as this since 1988, the year we built it).  Where we've watered, the crops look pretty OK.  Where we haven't, the soil is dry and too hard to be tilled with any equipment that I own.  We finished planting tomatoes last week, got the plastic down for the winter squash, set out most of the peppers, plus beans, herbs, and summer squash.  We've started melons and cantaloupes in trays hoping that it will be easier to get transplants to establish successfully than it would be to start from seeds.  We hope to get all the winter squash direct seeded into the field this week.  Not sure how it will work, but we'll soon find out. 
We got .2" rain Saturday night.  That's "point two inches".  Not very much, but enough to wash off leaves at least.   There was dust on my road by noon Sunday.  We're expecting a hot and windy week, so I'm not going to push my workers as hard as I have for the past month.  Gotta keep everybody healthy.  And maybe I'll have some time in the house to finally look at all the checks and registration forms you all have handed me.  I'm embarrassingly behind on my paperwork. 
I know you are anxious to get your vegetables each week, and I really appreciate your enthusiasm, but I have to ask for your cooperation to maintain our opening time.  It's crept a few minutes earlier each pickup this season, and I'm worried that if we don't get a handle on it, you'll be watching me eat lunch pretty soon!  Remember, our pickup times are 4:30 until 7:00, Mondays and Thursdays.  It would be hugely helpful to everybody who works on the farm in the afternoons getting everything organized if you could please delay getting here until 4:30.  We're usually hectically moving machinery and tractors and putting out parking signs, going the wrong way on one-way roads, and generally hustling around the yard, driveways, and shed right up until the last minute.  None of which is very safe for our shareholders.  And we don't take the vegetables out of the cooler until about 4:25. Then, we need room to calculate and figure out the set up, and it's hard to do without making mistakes when there are people hovering.  So, I know you want to get in and out of here early, but please, remind yourselves and your drivers  - give us at least until 4:30.  We need that much time to make pickup nights work smoothly for everybody.  Thanks.
Despite the drought, things are going well this season.  Weeds don't grow very much in a drought, and we haven't had to leave the field because of lightening.  My workers are marvelous. The vegetables we've had so far have been tasty and lovely.  Parking is working perfectly, we've had lots of food to donate, and shareholders seem to be happy.  All in all, it's good. 
See you this week.

we've got plumbing in the gardens

Greetings shareholders,
This week, we'll have nice lettuces, bok chois and other Asian greens, garlic scapes, and a few sugar snap peas.  The first planting of sugar snaps - the ones you got last week - were phenomenal.  All I can say is that I guess sugar snaps love drought.  This week, there will be a more normal amount.  Soon, we'll have kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, onions, radishes, little turnips, but those things need just a little more time.  They all stalled for the month on May, but now with the water we're able to provide, have started to grow again.
The good news from last week is that we got all the garden that was already planted - cabbages, broccoli, beets and chard, lettuce, kale, beans, some peppers, summer squash - with the capacity to be watered.  It was a big job, but all the plumbing is finally laid out and everything has had at least one good drink.  Now, we go back to planting, which is quite delayed.  We're finding that we have to water even before we plant, the soil is so so so dry.  Things that we start from seeds, like beans, herbs, pickles, winter squash, melons are going to be a continual challenge because it is so hard to get a nicely firm, uniformly moist seedbed.  The vegetables that are set out as transplants have a little better jump on things, but they are getting tired of living in those plastic trays on a hayrack.  This week, we concentrate on the workhorse crops like tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, winter squash. (And a little weeding wouldn't be a bad idea, either.)  After that, we go to the crowd pleasers like okra, carrots, more beans, more cukes, zukes.  We're heading in the right direction.
Sweet corn, potatoes, onions, and garlic are all far away from the pond, plus too much to irrigate.  But they were all planted early and seem to be hanging on OK.  I can't believe how resilient plants are.  They get eaten and fried and baked and starved and smacked around by the wind all day, and still they keep living.  Amazing.  And good thing for us!
My workers have been just great, working well beyond what I expected of them when I hired them.  Without their support and help, not too much would get done around here. 
Some of you have asked about the plastic we are using as mulch.  Here is a video showing the machine we have and how it works.  (Thankfully, our soil isn't as pulverized and damaged as the soil in the video!)  After the big sheets of plastic are laid, the girls poke holes in them and stuff a transplant in.  We have the irrigation running underneath, and the plastic holds the moisture in place near the roots, plus keep weeds from growing.  I never wanted to be a farmer who depended on plastic; we've always been able to manage weeds with cultivators and hoes, and I hate the idea of disposing of all that plastic at the end of the season.  But I'm sure glad that I made the investment this year.  I think it's going to really help out over the long haul.
Channel 9's radar looks good tonight.  Maybe we'll get a little rain by morning.  If not, we'll keep plugging along, doing our best to grow you some great food.
See you this week,
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