Sunday, January 31, 2010

Planning for 2010

This morning, even though it was about 25 degrees out, I armed myself with a tape measure and confirmed once and for all that yes indeed, I will have room for the grow beds that I've had my eyes on.

Lengthwise I have as much room as I want. Widthwise I have about 5 feet, and I only need 3 feet - perfect - we'll have room for the beds and then room to walk around them. I've decided that I'm going to spring for two of the 3' x 3' beds as well as one of the 1.5' x 3' bed for my herbs. I'm also going to invest in a netted covering for one of the 3' x 3' beds - the bed that will most likely be targeted by the neighborhood wildlife.

The first 3' x 3' bed will be for "tall" vegetables, namely my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. The second 3' x 3' bed will be for my "short" vegetables. This second bed will be broken up into an early/cool planting, followed by a later/hot planting. The early planting will include short plants such as radish, beets, carrots, onions, and greens. The later planting will include climbers such as squash, zucchini, melon, and cucumber.

I've used my stunted Excel skills to create a crude visual map for myself (yeah technology!):

In addition to an outdoor map, I've also laid out plans for my indoor seed starting operation. I will be using the same seed starting set-up as last year - it worked so well for me. My 6-cube tray will be filled with herbs, and my 40-cube tray will be filled with everything else. I won't be starting as many seedlings of each variety as I did last year. I ended up having too many plants and not enough space - noone wants to spend the love, time, and energy to nurture a seedling and then not be able to give it a good home.

Lastly, I've got my seed-planting calendar created. My first indoor sowing begins the week of February 22nd. Now I just have to clean up last year's mess in the yard and order my raised beds.

Things are starting to take shape!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Our First CSA

Some exciting news to report this week - my husband and I signed up to join our first ever CSA!

I have been mulling this idea over for at least a year. My hesitation has come from cost, lack of openings, and concerns about a pick-up location being close enough to our house. Well, this week Judy Williams from the Hyde Park Farmer's Market sent out an email detailing which of their vendors participate in a CSA, or Community Support Agriculture, program.

Currently, five Hyde Park Farmer's Market vendors run CSAs: Bergefurd Farm, Farm Beach Bethel, Hazelfield Farm, Mohrs' Animal Acres, and Eaton Farm. Sheer curiosity, some research, and a flurry of emails soon led to a decision - we now own a half share in Eaton Farm's CSA for the 2010 spring/summer/fall growing season.

Eaton Farm is located in Madison, IN. While they do not currently have a website of their own, their page on LocalHarvest describes them as follows:

"The Eaton Farm is a diversified family farm dedicated to preserving its farming heritage. The 55 acre farm near Madison, Indiana has been in Jerry Eaton's family for three generations. Today the farm family consists of Jerry and his wife Elizabeth, their son Silas, and Jerry's parents, Jim and Sudie Eaton. While many small farms have faced severe challenges over the past century, the Eatons feel that providing communities with fresh and local food is one way to keep farming viable. 2009 will be their 3rd year participating in farmer's markets, and the 2nd season for their CSA. The Eatons raise a wide selection of produce, with an emphasis on heirlooms and unique varieties. They also produce high quality pastured meat and eggs from animals raised on their farm."

I emailed Jerry and Elizabeth directly and they were quick to answer my questions. I have bought produce from them the past few seasons at the market and have always been very pleased with the quality and kinds of produce they have to offer. Sticking out in my mind at the moment are their heirloom tomatoes...*drool*. Equally important, they have always been very gracious and kind.

One of the big selling points for us was the fact that we can pick up our share each Sunday at the Hyde Park Farmer's Market itself, which is MAYBE 10 minutes from our house. Most other CSAs that I have investigated haven't been able to offer that type of convenience for us.

A half share with the Eaton Farm consists of eight dry quarts of produce, along with a half dozen fresh eggs every week. Their eggs are described as:

"...high quality pastured eggs from happy hens, fed local feed (antibiotic, hormone, and by-product-free), moved weekly, and protected within electric netting. The laying house is mobile, and the hens spend their days foraging and scratching the grass in the sunshine."

Why would I purchase expensive cage-free organic eggs from the grocery store when I have this wonderful, ethical, local alternative?

With just my husband and I, a half-share should be a decent amount of food. While it's true that vegetarians can really plow through some veggies in a week, I think we'll find that we have plenty of fresh produce. The CSA runs from May through October, give or take a couple weeks depending on growing conditions. Last year we found ourselves at a farmer's market pretty much every weekend in some shape or form, so we would not be stretching ourselves with a weekly CSA share, which will be supplemented by any produce that I am able to grow from our home garden.

I'm excited that I may be introduced to some new produce that I've never cooked with before - either from fear or sheer lack of knowledge. I love it that I've been corresponding directly with the people who will be tending and growing our food. The whole concept of a CSA resonates with me, especially when I'm forced to purchase the faceless, nameless produce in the grocery store during the long winter months. It will encourage us to eat more locally, as well as more seasonally.

Hopefully we'll have an opportunity this spring or summer to take a small day trip and visit the farm so we can see the land where our food is grown. I'm excited and proud that this is one of the many ways that we choose to put our money where our mouths are!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010 Seeds

Several weeks ago I received perhaps the most beautiful, mouth-watering, enticing catalog I've laid eyes on - Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds really outdid themselves on this one:

This piece of art is a good 12" x 12" large and full of color photographs, personalized descriptions of each variety, and lots of other helpful and interesting goodies for the individual who appreciates the tradition of heirloom gardening.

Based upon the success of last year's heirloom garden, I'm definitely going to be planting mostly heirlooms again this year. So this morning, in an attempt to take my mind off of the 3-4 inches of snow outside, I decided to sit down and start making a list of seeds that I want to order for this year.

What started out as a list turned into an actual order...yes, I know, it's still only January, but I wanted to make sure that none of my seeds sold out. Placing an order a month or two early isn't going to hurt anyone, now is it?

Here's the list of what I ordered:
  • Tomatoes: "Mule Team", "Aunt Ruby's German Green", "Carbon", "Riesentraube", and "Sungold Select II"
  • Beet "Golden Beet"
  • Cucumber "Delikatesse"
  • Eggplant "Black Beauty"
  • Salad Mix "European Mesclun Salad"
  • Hot Pepper "Purple Jalapeno"
  • Sweet Pepper "Jimmy Nardello Italian Pepper"
  • Radish "Saxa 2"
  • Winter Squash "Butternut-Waltham"
  • Herbs: "Genovese Basil" and "Lemon Bee Balm"
  • Flowers: "Nasturtium Empress of India" and "Poppy Mother of Pearl"
I plan to supplement this list with quite a few of my more successful seeds from last year.

Now that I have my seeds ordered, I need to start getting serious about what type of planting set-up I'm going to go with this year. Last year I stuck with my collection of pots clustered in the yard. This year, due to deer, squirrels, and birds, I'm thinking of ordering a couple raised beds from Gardener's Supply Company. They also offer coverings for these raised beds, which would hopefully help me keep said animals from stealing my produce.

I'll have to take a tape measure to the yard once it's warmer, but I believe that their 3' x 3' raised bed would fit nicely where my pots sat last year. I might even be able to fit two of them side-by-side, giving me even more growing room. They also offer a 1.5' x 3' bed, which would be nice for herbs right outside of our kitchen side door.

When we originally bought this house, I had visions of tilling up the back yard for a nice, big garden. Tree roots and lack of adequate sunlight have forced me to become more innovative in my planning. I haven't completely made up my mind yet about the raised beds, but it seems like the best bet. I can't keep planting in these pots year after year. I'm also willing to bet my plants will yield more when their roots aren't confined so tightly.

It will give me something to think about during these gray winter months.