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!

How Has Weather Affected the Farm?

… and your food?

Like many folks in the Northeast, we got walloped by a huge ice storm early in February, and like many, we lost a lot of trees. A number of our elderly peach trees broke under the weight of the ice, but it was the white pines bordering the neighborhood to the East that took the biggest hit. Two large evergreens in front of our tenant houses also were badly damaged and will need to be removed. To date, we have spent several weeks cleaning up all the damage, with many limbs still stacked in big piles awaiting chipping. All of this needs to be cleaned up before the grass grows too high, making the job even tougher. This has given us a lot of added work to do in our already busy Springtime rush. I know many people in our area are experiencing the same thing–we just might have more than the average homeowner.

All the snow we had this Winter also kept us from getting to some of the outdoor projects we had planned on tackling in our “off season”. It did not, however, keep us from pruning the apple orchard–this was just a lot more effort, having to hike through the snow to get there!

The cold temperatures and Winter snow blanket have led to a delayed Spring this year–which appears to be two to three weeks behind what we think of as “normal” in our area.  In addition to the lateness of the season, we had almost 6 inches of rain that saturated already wet soil. Some plantings were washed out by this rain, and will have to be sown again. We have thousands of seedlings that have been transplanted to the fields between rain storms. The greenhouses are still stuffed full of plants waiting their turn to head out into the great outdoors. We are really hoping that this week will be sunny, and that the fields will dry enough to do the many essential early season farm tasks that will set the stage for the next wave of planting. Come on sunshine!

Because Mother Nature has been a little rough on us these past few months, we have decided to move the start date of the CSA season back a week, to the second week of June. This will allow our crops to mature just a little more before we start sending them out to you and your families. We are disappointed, as we expect some of you to be as well, however, we think the wait will be worth it once we are rewarded with the beautiful, delicious, fresh produce of Spring.

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 Spring!

wagon.jpgI detect just a hint of green to the grassy areas around the houses and in the pasture surrounding the pond. The weather has continued to seesaw but surely we are finally done with Winter. Now we’re making tracks to get everything in order before the warm weather gets here and our work days get exponentially longer. We’re spending a lot of time these days in the greenhouses! The small greenhouse that is attached to the barn is overflowing, and we have begun to expand operations to the big plastic house that is just behind the barn.

Getting water to the greenhouses for our new seedlings is always a chore in the beginning of the season.  We start planting things when the temps are still freezing and the water to the barn is still shut off to avoid frozen pipes. I’ve carried more than my share of buckets of water to the greenhouse (and to the chickens) this year! Now that it has warmed up a bit, we have redirected the downspout back into the big green tank at the corner of the barn so that we can catch the runoff from the barn roof. This tank of water is great for watering all our little seedlings and sure beats hauling buckets! When we are convinced that Spring is really here, we can open up all our water lines again. Yet another reason for a Springtime happy dance!

The apple orchard is all pruned and most of the brush has been moved to the area that will be this year’s end of CSA season bonfire. Lots of snowy, windy days have been spent on that hill! Next we will move on to pruning the peach orchard, blackberries and red raspberries. It is a bit of a sprint to finish these tasks in time to begin the field work. We hope to have not too many rainy days that might delay our progress!

It is good to feel the ever warming sun and we are all so grateful to put a long hard Winter behind us! Welcome sweet Spring, welcome!
— Farmer Karen