Every season offers its own particular challenges at our farm. Some are new while others are familiar. Each of them ends up affecting the contents of your box eventually. Winter is no exception. In past years, we have had hard freezes in December that killed or damaged any number of our crops in the field, including one year where we lost the mandarin crop halfway through harvest, but not the rest of the citrus. Another year a hard freeze occurred after mandarin harvest was complete, wiping out all the other citrus — as well as many of the vegetable crops.
Then there are the years of flooding and excessive rainfall. Common victims in those years are our Spinach and Lettuce crops, which suffer from fungal disease when it rains daily for weeks at a time. Carrots are impossible to harvest, and are often bleached by the large amount of water in the soil. Another significant issue for us in wet years is our inability to prepare fields and plant new crops, which causes major gaps in our produce offerings in the spring and even into summer. Heavy rain during March can also dramatically impact our peach and apricot crop, by causing the blossoms to rot and the bees to stay in their hives.
This year, we’re having an issue that we’ve experienced before in dry winters. The lack of clouds and rain have led to some very cold night temperatures combined with low humidity and warm days. This causes cold injury to certain crops while providing ideal conditions for aphids, a tiny sucking pest. Aphids cannot tolerate high humidity and rainy winters, but thrive in dry weather when days are relatively warm.
We plant enough broccoli in the fall every year to allow us to harvest off and on from October through March. But this year much of the broccoli was damaged by freezing temperatures in November, especially the small plants that we normally harvest after mid-January. The grey aphids then moved in to infest the weakened plants, and have now overwhelmed them. Despite the plants having recovered nicely from the cold weather, the crop is completely unusable. Thus, you haven’t seen any in your boxes now for several weeks. This is a significant loss for us — 5 acres of broccoli representing tens of thousands of dollars of income.
We also have an outbreak of black aphids in our Beet field which has left the leaves unmarketable but which doesn’t affect the roots. Unfortunately, the aphids are now moving into the Chard and Spinach that are directly adjacent to the Beets. Both of these items are in some of your boxes this week, and you may find you have to wash some aphids off the leaves (see note below). Unfortunately it is likely that the aphids will overrun the Chard very soon, which is a bummer because we’ve only just started harvesting it. Chard is a late winter harvest crop for us, and it will be sad not to have it in March.
On a positive note, were able to begin planting more Spinach this year on New Years Day due to the dry weather — something we’ve never been able to do before. That spinach is in an entirely different field, and we’re taking some pro-active steps to keep it aphid free. It’s growing quickly and we expect to start harvesting it in a couple of weeks. We’ve also planted a number of other crops for early spring harvest, and gotten a headstart on preparing fields for summer crops.
“New” items for your box on the horizon include Spring Onions (two weeks); Asparagus, Peas & Green Garlic (March) and eventually Strawberries in April. In the meantime, you will continue to see the slight variations on a theme that might be called, “An Ode to the Winter Vegetable Crops of Northern California”.
To account for the reduced variety of produce in your boxes this time of year, we’ve taken the pro-active step of lowering the weekly charge to the accounts of the Medium and Large subscribers. The CSA store continues to provide the opportunity to purchase additional amounts of the items that we still have in abundance right now — in particular, Carrots, Lettuce and most of the Citrus fruit. We appreciate your continued support and understanding.