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CSA Newsletter ~ Week 8

Posted 6/5/2012 2:44pm by Chris.
This season has been challenging for all Midwestern fruit growers due to the very warm weather we had back in March. As with many trees, canes (raspberries), and other perennial fruit plants, warm weather in the winter/spring can cause premature growth that is especially sensitive to cold weather and frost when temperatures return to 'normal'. Strawberries are fairly susceptible to this.

Though we could not see any damage or particularly unusual growth, our earliest berries are not as big or as sweet as is normal. Early fruiting varieties of course flower earlier, and our earliest varieties, Wendy and 
Kelly Baas w/strawberries
CSA customer Kelly picks a patch
Annapolis, seem particularly affected by this spring's weirdness. It's hard to tell at this point, but after talking to a few farmer friends near us, and looking at our four varieties of berries, we're hoping that only the early varieties will be affected, and that the later varieties will be, more or less, normal. 

From the farm's standpoint, the biggest issue is size--the berries are small, which makes them very slow to pick. A sphere with twice the diameter weighs 8 times more! So the time and labor required to get the weight/volume necessary to fill a quart is much more than we'd like it to be. The other problem seems to be uneven ripening. Some of the berries are ripe on one side but unusually slow to ripen on the other side. Ripening, flavor and texture go hand in hand, and so these first berries--while they do have lots of flavor--aren't as sweet as they could be and the texture is less than ideal. They'll still be good for smoothies, jam, and pie. For those who aren't as picky about their strawberries being big, sweet and soft, they're pretty good fresh. As mentioned, this seems to be worst on the earlier varieties, and better on the later varieties. Time will tell. In any event, these little beauties are better than the large berries shipped here from California with pithy white centers. Enjoy them while you can!

Discussions with a few fellow farmers in area make me feel lucky to have any berries at all. Steve Pincus of Tipi Produce (a well-established farm of 40 years with 500 CSA customers) informs me that his berry crop is a complete failure this year, and that the very warm spring is almost certainly the cause. He said he might have a few berries from his latest ripening varieties, but that it's too early to tell and for now he's told their CSA customers there will be no berries at all. I'm hopeful that berries in following weeks will improve at least somewhat. 

All of this is discouraging as you might guess. Plus, strawberries are our least profitable crop to begin with. They are in the ground longer, produce less, and require more weeding labor than any other crop. Their slightly higher value per pound in no way makes up for the extra costs their production requires. Part of this is the organic part, part of it is that our farm is a little weedier than we'd like, and the final part is just the nature of strawberries. We were talking even before all this happened about the things we could be doing/growing if we didn't have to deal with strawberries. They consume so many resources with such uncertainty and the promise of so little return--it's hard to justify them in all ways except their amazing flavor. There is a reason vegetable farms stick to vegetables, and fruit farms stick to fruit. Doing both can be very challenging, and we may stick to what we do best long term. We did plant more strawberries this year to harvest next year, and they'll in all likelihood be better than this year's crop has started out, but I'd be surprised if we decide to plant more next year for 2014 harvest.

Other than strawberries, what's new this week are scallions (green onions) and Komatsuna, the last to be introduced of our new Asian greens. You may have a hard time telling this green apart from the Vitamin Green we included a few times, and it similarly can be cooked or used fresh in salads when younger. This week's offering is a bit older, and so is best cooked. To round out the box we packed lettuce, kale, and chard, which has managed to escape the damage it is susceptible to. Keep your fingers crossed for the later strawberry varieties!

Chris Covelli and 
The Tomato Mountain Team

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