Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March Comes in Like a Lion....What a Roar!

Winter 2015 is nearly in the books - thankfully. It's been a wet and wild ending to it, that is for sure. Things started out pretty mild, but February left and March entered with a fury of ice, bitter cold winds, snow and killing temperatures here at the farm in Balch Springs, TX.

Not something most of North Texas is accustomed to. Average winter time temps - low 50's and plenty of sunshine.

Being from Chicago originally though, I knew how to dress, what precautions to take for freezing pipes, etc. and I did what I could to cover as many of the things growing in the garden as I had coverings for. But that doesn't stop all of the damage. Hoop houses and low tunnels helped a lot. But there was still damage.Winds rip off covers. Excessive and constant moisture floods seeds waiting to germinate. A pipe still burst somewhere near the barn and  even part of the hoop house itself is getting flooded from the soaking wet soil surrounding it. I may build a mote for next rainy season.

On the surface, things looked pretty green.
Before - beautiful, full heads ready for harvest

After the first round of freezing ice pellets & winds
But under the green, lay burnt tips of frisee, no longer desired by the chefs it was earmarked for, tattered kale covered in aphids, water logged rows of seedlings - now likely drowned - and more rye grass, shepherds purse, and hen bit than ever before. Why is it that winter never seems to damage the unwanted plants? I mean one can only eat so much hen bit and the chickens and horses make too big of a mess to let them in the gardens to take advantage of the rye grass! Heck, the small flock didn't even want to come out from under their coop! LOL
Protesting the snow

So, what do we do now? We cut back the kale and hope for regrowth. I wait for the soil to dry out enough so that the tractor doesn't get stuck and mow down, then disk in, the overgrowth.  I order more seeds. And we re-group.
Is there time to replant what is lost? Not really. There's such a short window between our no-frost dates, coolish weather and scorching heat going into the spring, that I've decided to focus on increasing the warm weather crops instead.

We may still have kale, and the romaines seemed to make it pretty well, Swiss chard, under the covers, looks great and was in fact harvested for the CSA Saturday. So all is not lost. Just not what we usually enjoy this time of the year. Winter harvest was delayed and then pretty well vanished in two weeks.

Now one crop that did do well this winter, in the hoop house, was our Brussels sprouts. One of the toughest to grow, longest to mature crops of the winter - did the best.

And no one is complaining. I have received emails and text messages this week as my CSA members enjoyed the tender, butter-like texture of the top leaves as well as the sweet, tender golf ball sized sprouts and they're looking forward to spring, too.

More rows, earlier, for squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and melons! 

That's how I'm looking at it, anyway. Sure, I'm disappointed that we won't get those tender broccoli heads this spring.
(The plants got so confused with the up and down temps this winter, they started to put on heads before the plants were really ready to support them. I may get about a bag of heads if I cut all of the quarter sized tops.)

Harlequin bug eggs - resemble tiny barrels
But if I re-plant brassicas now, odds are that I'll be fighting insects worse than ever as broccoli prefers cool weather - not something we can expect much of after April. Broccoli, being a 60 - 65 day crop, will end up maturing in the heat of May and end up plagued by bugs. Harlequin bugs love to attack all sorts of brassicas in the late spring. Here is what to look for.
Beautiful, but damaging to late maturing cool season brassica

Plus, the soil is still so wet, it can't be worked for at least a week anyway - pushing back planting until late March - which, in Dallas, is too late for planting anything considered "cool" season. So, instead of fighting Mother Nature, I'm planning for more warm/hot season crops instead. I've planted more eggplant, tomatoes and peppers and can't wait to try some new melons this year, too.

Days after the rains ended - there is still standing water in our sandy soils

Onward to the warm season I push!

Defeat tends to breed determination in this farm girl. I have a wonderful core membership of CSA families who stick with the farm through feast and famine and get just as excited as I do when I report that "the carrots are up!", and just as disappointed to see the devastation when it hits. I roll up my sleeves, they send in the next installment to their annual membership, and look forward to the next harvest. I couldn't do it without them!

Work-share and volunteer CSA members help "clean-up" the aftermath of the winter storm

This special relationship between farmer and community is what makes the job so very special to me. I don't feel like I'm in this alone, even though most of my days are spent doing solitary tasks with only the chickens, LGD's and my ewe looking on as I work.

But I can't wait to see the looks on the faces of my youngest visitors when they come by and  feed the chickens, eat a carrot fresh from the ground and show me their latest discovered rock, insect or flower from the field.

Thank you to my CSA. And, thank you to Nature for the winter storm. Even though it caused some setbacks on the farm, I know the trees, ponds, lakes and streams needed all of the moisture it brought.  

Plus, it did afford me a few extra days "off". I got to join fellow local food colleague Amanda of the DFM at a fun, new, and actually pretty "*clean" restaurant that one of my favorite chef friends opened - right in the midst of all of this weather - down in Deep Ellum. And I've had way more time in the kitchen to cook than I usually have.
Luscher's Red Hots - A REAL taste of Chicago!

*"Besides being just damn tasty meats and sausages, we only use clean meat from well treated animalsI know you are particular about sourcing and animal treatment. ALL of the meats used to make our sausages and other products are regionally sourced and pastured, raised steroid, hormone and antibiotic free and are AWA (Animal Welfare Alliance) approved." Chef Brian Luscher - owner/chef  

(Needless to say, hearing this warmed my heart and made my stomach happy!)

Rescued frisee & Swiss chard salad with sauteed daikon made a nice lunch

Till next time -


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

PS - I'll be speaking at 1pm this Saturday in Dallas at a cool urban feed store called Trinity Haymarket on Market Center Blvd. Come out and say hi!