Early Season Lessons

We’re now entering the 5th week of our CSA season.  This is very early for Wisconsin, as the terrestrial farmers are still as much as 4 weeks away from their first installment.  Despite what is in many ways a successful attempt to extend the season, I am concerned about the lack of variety.


My subscribers have enjoyed a decent quantity of lettuce (5 types), arugula, spinach, endive and escarole, Swiss chard, and kale (sweet, wonderful, kale).   They have also received approximately 2 radishes each.  If our own salads are any measure, the quality has been good.  Greens grown in this time are sweet and tender.  We are a month or more away from the first danger of a hint of bitterness.  Heat may be a greater challenge on the roof than cold. 


But I need to find a way to increase the variety and that is what I’ve been noodling on the last few days.  Certainly I can do better with overwintering some carrots and green onions, but what else?  I planted a lot of radishes, but the ones first seeded did not develop bulbs, even though they were a winter variety.   How early can peas be started, even in a greenhouse type setting?  They tolerate the cold, but the germination and early growth is so slow that the later ones soon catch up.  My attempt to start beans early was a bust, with very low germination rates.  Some of the ones started later and in the greenhouse-free area seem to be ahead.  Broccoli doesn’t like the heat, for sure.  But it also doesn’t seem to like the cold (more about that in future entries).  The cabbage is plodding along, but without any sense of urgency.  What about beats?  What am I forgetting?  Green is the color of our movement, but give me more of the spectrum!


Eliot Coleman’s techniques (see The Four Season Harvest and TheWinter Harvest Handbook—which I have not yet read) are promising, but did not work on the roof as well as I had hoped.  Where I had expected to find some carrots this spring, I instead found rotting carrot mush.  I can do better next year simply by planting a few winter crops earlier in the fall (the basic notion is that they are established enough by the time deep cold and low light sets in that, despite their relative dormancy, they can still be harvested) and by putting some carrots inside the greenhouse area.  I need some asparagus, but the urgent constantly overrides the important and I have trouble finding the time or space for something whose first harvest is 3 years off.


Perhaps I need something more radical.  Geothermal heat in the boxes? Better heat retention strategies? Solar reflectors? Time, money, and roof-load limits all interfere.  For now.  What hard-won wisdom has my generation lost?  What new techniques are we going to discover?


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