Hail Storm Missed the Farm…Whew

We saw the ominous dark storm clouds looming off to the North last Thursday evening, hours after we finished planting 100s of cucumber and squash seedlings. The weather seemed unstable and we had an eye to the sky. We watched as the wind picked up and the clouds released some rain over us, but thankfully no hail.

We later heard Chester Springs, Exton and West Chester all suffered a considerable amount of damage due to a heavy hail storm. This is every farmer’s worst nightmare, and one we were very thankful to avoid! Hail can absolutely devastate vegetable plantings and fruit trees alike. We have a lot of seedlings in the ground and plenty more lined up on the transplant wagon. All is okay for now, and we will certainly be keeping our fingers crossed in the coming days and weeks that these crazy storms continue to avoid us!

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

transplantsAfter last Wednesday’s 5.75 inches of rain we’re looking for lots of sunshine and some wind to help dry the fields out so we can get back to planting. Our transplant wagon is full of seedlings ready to be planted, with even more awaiting their transition from greenhouse to wagon.

This week will be a very busy, transplanting 1000s of plants–IF the fields dry out enough for our tractor to get out there. We hate to work the soil when it is too wet, as this can ruin the soil structure. We work so hard to build that beautiful soil that it hurts us to spoil it by working the ground when conditions are not proper. Come on sunshine!

April Showers Bring…

too much rainWhatever happened to April “showers” bring May flowers? This is much more than a shower! I am happy that we are not slated to experience the record rain fall that Florida has just seen, but I can’t help but wonder just how much this big rainstorm is going to affect our food system? Timing is everything!

What an odd weather year 2014 has presented thus far. It is such a pleasure to finally see Spring flowers after such a long and snowy Winter. Spring has presented us with seesawing weather patterns however, so many of the ornamental trees that usually bloom sequentially all seem to be blooming at once. Here at the farm, the peach orchard is very pretty right now as it is reach full bloom—about 2 to 3 weeks later than normal.
I thought that I had put my Winter hat and warm work gloves away for good, only to dig them out again for what I hope will be the last time this Spring. Spring has arrived very late this year, with overall temperatures remaining cooler than average. A few warm days accelerated the growth of many plants, only to have the temps plunge to near freezing at night. As a farmer, it is the cold temps that are the worry. The peach crop is particularly vulnerable to cold damage, but so far, I think we are fine—I do not think we sustained any frost injury to the peach blossoms.2014 orchard

The cool wet weather also has put us behind in setting out our vegetable transplants. Seeing that the weather was so slow to warm up this Spring, we (slightly) delayed the sowing of some of our little seedlings. The greenhouse benches are now stuffed full however! Many seedlings are ready for planting and are spending their last few days sitting out on the farm wagon, toughening up a bit before they get planted out to the fields. Others need a few more weeks of warm greenhouse growing before the soil and air temperatures are warm enough for them to make the big move outside.

As I write this it is raining like crazy. I realize it will be days before we will be able to get into the fields again to continue with our planting schedule and I am hoping that recent sowings are not getting washed out.

Vollmecke Orchards, you can taste the difference!

It may not look like much, but our new cooler helps keep our freshly harvested produce fresh!

It may not look like much, but our new cooler helps keep our freshly harvested produce fresh!

We all know the value of eating fresh local produce, but there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that probably doesn’t occur to most people. What makes our produce different than what you can buy in the “local” section of your favorite grocery store? Freshness! Local produce tastes better than its ho hum grocery counterparts, because it isn’t tired from traveling across the country, from being stored in a warehouse, or stacked in heaps waiting to appear on grocery store shelves.

Variety is another factor. We choose what to grow based on flavor. That’s it. If something looks beautiful, but has no taste, we don’t grow it again! Grocery store produce is chosen for its ability to be picked green, travel well, be uniform in appearance, and hold up for a really long time. This is awesome if you have having a photo shoot. We prefer to eat and enjoy our vegetables! We grow many varieties that can’t be found in stores, because they just do not ship or store well–but they are delicious! Think heirloom tomatoes, delicate lettuces, sun-ripened peaches.

Then there is the ripeness factor. Really good produce is picked at the perfect stage to be full of flavor but not so ripe that it won’t hold up for us once we get it home. Our tomatoes are red when we pick them–not hard green globes! Allowing them to sun ripen brings about a flavor you just cannot duplicate any other way.

Proper storage and handling also makes a huge difference. We really do our best to make sure you get the best, freshest product possible. Over the years we’ve invested a lot of time and money in building walk-in coolers to help us assure that our fresh produce does indeed stay really fresh. For instance, by harvesting our lettuce first thing in the morning before the heat starts to wilt it, bringing it right in and tucking it into the cooler can greatly extend its shelf life, flavor and nutrition.

These are just some of the things we do, because we enjoy OUR food this way, and want to make sure that we are able to share the most delicious, flavorful food we can with all of you.

— Farmer Karen

Welcome to the 2013 CSA Season!

Pea Tendrils

Delicious, tender pea tendrils!

Sorry to have gone dormant and not updated the blog for such a long period of time. We have been crazy busy with millions (or so it seems) of farm activities.  A farmer’s day can easily be 12 to 14 hours at this time of year. Somehow, I find that this schedule does not lend itself to creative blogging. Remember that phrase “Make hay when the sun shines?” Well, it is never more appropriate than Spring…we have taken advantage of every single sunny day, only instead of “making hay,” we are growing produce. When you’re a farmer, Spring is all out time for farming!

The weather so far this year has been a roller coaster ride. It was certainly slow to warm up, and as a result we delayed some plantings. Which is a good thing since we experienced a heavy frost the second week of  May. The frost was then closely followed by four days in the 90’s. This kind of weather is challenging for people who aren’t used it as well as for all of our newly planted seedlings. We had some plants nipped by the frost, but no major losses. We  also had to replant a bunch of tomatoes that didn’t like the 90 degree windy days (thank goodness for extra plants in reserve!). Everything is growing very rapidly now, and it is very rewarding to look out over the fields and see the fruits of our labor!

We have the first week of CSA under our belt and as a result, are slowly shifting our energies from spending our time planting and tending, to harvesting and waiting on members and customers.

It is wonderful to see so many new members this year, as well as the many returning members after the long winter’s hiatus. A community has truly formed around this farm property! Good food and good people—what could be better!

Special tools of the trade

Over the years we have begun groOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwing more and more seedlings in the greenhouse.It gives us a nice jump on the season and allows us to provide a greater diversity of produce from the get go in Spring. If we did all this by hand it would be a rather daunting task to crank out the quantities of seedlings we need.

Here’s a picture of some of the tools we use in the greenhouse to help speed up the seeding process. Notice the board with the dowel pegs sticking out of it. This is called a dibble board [leave it to the Brits to name such a thing] it is used to establish the holes in the soil mix in which the seeds will be placed. Every time we switch to a different size of seed flat we need to use a different dibble board. So we have standardized the process as much as possible. This special tool keeps us from having to poke individual holes in the soil mix with your finger-big time savings! The other box -like tool is our wonderful vacuum seeder. A hose connects the suction box to a shop vac. The seeder has exchangeable plates that have specific hole sizes punched in each one. The idea is to use just the right plate size so  that the seeds will not get stuck in the holes when the suction is turned on. A seed will be held to the outside of each hole when the vacuum is turned on and will release when the device is turned upside down over top the seed flat and the vacuum is then turned off. Each seed falls into a hole that was created with the dibble board. A number of different plates are needed for the device since seeds vary so much in size and shape. Each plate costs more then $100.00.  Yikes- and we have to have how many plates?  Not exactly cheep but what a brilliant time saver and definitely money well spent!