Thursday, July 19, 2012

People and Planet CSA July 19, 2012

What's in the box 

Early Italian Garlic,  Dark Red Norland Potatoes,  Mara Des Bois strawberries, a little vase of basil, Onions from the Onion Trial this week it's Firenze Torpedo & Colorado de Conservar, Beurre de Rocquencourt green beans- last of and the first of the French Filets, first Zucchini of the Season - Romanesco is ribbed, Genovese is light green, Nano Verde di Milano is dark green, tomatillos,  Luscious White Sweet Corn, a few tomatoes (what are they doing?), one lowly bell pepper, cucumbers - Delicatesse, White Wonder & Poona Kheera, and finally first carrots out of the carrot trial - Marketgartener.

On Farm Research or what's with all these Trials?

One of the problems with being an organic farmer is that good seed is hard to find.  When you look through the catalogs, it's as if 90% of the seed companies got together and said,  okay watermelon, let's give them Sugar Baby.  A lot of good varieties for organic farmers has just disappeared.  Some of these seeds companies have been bought up by Monsanto, and the seed is just not offered anymore.  Every year it takes me longer and longer to find seeds for the next year.  Two years ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands and start hunting seeds, trialing them and sending them along to other farmers.

Onion Trial
So what have we learned?  

1.  Saving seed is hard work.  Make no mistake about that.  We are lucky that the USDA GRIN began saving seeds when they did or some of these varieties would have been lost to memory.  There are seed saving organizations that do what they can with limited funds to keep seeds going.  There are VERY few people working on open pollinated seed for organic or organique farmers.  I myself have been very lucky to have the help of Dr. Carol Deppe, Dr. Alan Kapuler,  Joseph of Utah, the Good folks of Long Island Seed Company, Alan Bishop, Dr. Craig Kolodge, and here the list could get longer, but thanks to our ancestors who saved seed in the first place.

2.  Just because it's an "heirloom seed" does not mean it will grow here.  Some heirloom seeds come without any disease resistance and have low yields.  Some of these seeds just need love.  We need to grow them, rogue them - throw out the sickly, and grow them again.  Some are just not suited to our climate and there's no one to tell me which ones will be the future of the farm.

3. Some seed has just become too inbred, and needs to get out in the world and mix-it up a little.

4.  There are seeds that do not meet my standards.  I eat everything that you eat and more.  I don't like soapy carrots, bitter squash or cukes.  I think melons should be sweet and apples should not taste mealy.  I think veges and fruits should keep for as long as possible, without refrigeration.

Carrot Trial
This year at the farm we continue to trial:

What are we looking for?

Ultimately we are looking for a combination of saladette (small tomatoes), beefsteaks and cherries, various colors, with various ripening times, some early, some late that:
1.  Can be packed.  If I can't get them to you, there's no point in growing them.
2.  Flavor, Flavor, Flavor!  A good tomato should make you eat them till your mouth is blistered, and then you go look for more.  Or I should get fan mail like this:  "My kid stands on a chair and eats all the strawberries in the fridge.  I have to hide them." 
3.  Ought to be able to sit on the counter for a week without becoming mushy or nasty tasting.
4.  Disease free vines.  
From the last 3 years, we have found 3 tomatoes that are raved about by you folks:  Sungold - a yellow cherry, Cherokee Green - it's green!, and Herman's Special.  As the season goes on I can't wait to see what you select from this year.  Naturally, I have another 20 for next year, until all dozen variety spots are filled.
Nanook inspects the TPS
This year's tomatoes:  Giannini, Dona - an old favorite of Leo's, Black Cherry, Juan Flamme, Sungold, Joe's Early, Santa Ana, Thessaloniki, Burning Spear, Mama Leone, Danko, Tennessee Britches (Leo thought that tag said 10 bitches), Milka's Red, Rose de Berne, Me Tarzan, St. Columbe, Green Zebra Cherry, and Herman's Special.  
As the tomatoes really start to come in, I'll label them so that you can vote for your favorites.  This week I saw the first ripe tomatoes, late I think for tomatoes.  Each year we'll keep a favorite and trial some new ones.  One of the things this does for our small farm is that it protects us from loss.  If some bug finds that Herman's Special is just too special, we will not lose all the tomatoes.  If we have a sudden hail, we may lose the early tomatoes, but should be able to still get late tomatoes.

Ashworth Corn being made into Chicos
Okay, so every year I plant Dark Red Norland and Yukon Gold.  Over the years, the amount of potatoes is dwindling.  We plant more and harvest less.  This bodes not well.  Not all of the problem is gophers.  Potatoes are a clone, so we keep planting the clone and it's falling by the wayside, getting weaker.  So this year, we have TPS, True Potato Seed.  The flowers on these will set more seed, crossing with other flowers and we'll get a number of original potatoes.  There may even be some orange ones.  (One of the potatoes was called Orang-atang).  We received seed from Joseph in Utah, Jaap in France and we also bought some from Atash & Tater Mater.  As I started to talk about this problem, other farmers started sending me seeds.  Now we can have seeds and clones. And the potatoes will keep evolving with the bugs.  Now if we could just get the gophers to leave them alone!
Well what was wrong with our onions?  We've always had good onions.  CMS, Cytoplasmic male sterility is total or partial male sterility associated with plant biology.  It is the failure of the plants to produce functional anthers, pollen  or male gamete.  In other words, I can't save the seed.  To think that some brilliant seed person decided to do this, just boggles my mind.  This is one of the biggest challenges we are having to overcome.  Good farmers and the USDA have sent me seed from all over and we are hunting good flavorful storage onions.  You won't see many onions this year, as most of them will be going into seed production.  But there will be leeks!  We have have already sent many varieties of seed to the North and South where they might help other farmers as well.
Okay, so more on this next week. As we delve into the mind of the farmer.  And as this squash is trying to wish you,  blessings on all your little pointed heads this week. 

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