Week Ten: August 15th Update
Problem solving is an activity that seems to define farming and gardening at any sort of scale. From the ether flows a seemingly endless supply of sudden and unexpected problems, all demanding adequate and timely solutions.
Today as we harvested a lettuce mix for our CSA shares, about a quarter of the way into the task, our lettuce harvester broke. It's a simple battery powered machine that makes the process of cutting and gathering lettuce straightforward. A simple break could be fixed, we even have a spare parts kit for the harvester just in case, but a complex break wouldn't lend itself to a quick fix. It turns out it was a complex break, a piece of metal snapped, and not a piece that was included in the parts kit.
Once we realized the harvester was out of commission for the day, we faced the fact that we had about a hundred square feet of lettuce to cut, and no harvester to cut it. What would normally be a fifteen minute task would now take at least an hour. An unexpected problem like this can change the whole flow of the day.
After we tightly defined the immediate requirement - get cut lettuce from field into bin - we settled on our Macgyver solution. We'd sterilize a sharp pair of garden shears, and cut rows lettuce at ground level, by hand. A second person would be ready to gather the upright leaves just after the cut was made. It was ugly, inefficient, and objectively sub-optimal, but it did the trick.
The immediate problem was solved but we're now left with the task of repairing our harvester. Thinking cautiously and with redundancy in mind, I also wonder whether a more comprehensive set of replacement parts is in order.
A farewell to Cucumbers
There can come a time when the effort required to continue to care for a certain crop exceeds it's expected future benefit. To ignore this sunk cost fallacy would be a psychological hazard, as farming is an activity that leaves little room for perfectionism.
Early in the season we had problem-free cucumbers, they did well indoors and were transplanted without issue. They even started producing earlier than expected. But as mentioned in a prior update, eventually the cucumber beetles (among other pests) found them.
We've tried a few interventions with varying levels of success but after several weeks of observing and testing we've decided to stop investing time and effort in our cucumber plants.
It's not just that the fruit incur insect damage (sometimes beyond the point of being usable), but that there's an opportunity cost to having several beds dedicated to cucumber - those beds could be used to grow something else. Our plan is to remove the cucumber plants, clean up the beds, and begin some additional fall crops like carrots and beets.
We've learned a number of things in growing our cucumbers this year that we can apply next year. For instance, it turns out thicker skinned varieties do much better in the face of insect damage, so we may choose to focus on these varieties going forward.
Melons: Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Honeydew
While our cucumbers are gone for the season, we still have other members of the cucurbit family growing. We have a few beds of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melons.
In fact, a few weeks ago we sent out a few early watermelons to a handful of CSA members as a trial, but unfortunately they were under-ripe. Sorry! We're growing a variety called "Jade Duchess" and while they appeared ripe and passed the classic hollow-tapping test, we should have left them to mature for another week or two. Lesson learned!
That said, we're seeing our melons starting to become ripe and will be distributing them in our shares as they are available in the coming weeks.
If you specifically don't like or want to receive cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon, let us know and we'll make sure it goes to someone who can appreciate it!
You may have noticed that over the last couple of weeks we've included some herbs in our CSA shares. Last week was a package of basil and the week before was cilantro. You'll continue to see herbs in the coming weeks, including dill, sage, parsley, and more basil and cilantro.
If you'd like larger quantities of a herb that we grow, perhaps dill for canning, or basil for pesto, let us know! We'll also be putting larger quantities of herbs up on our online store in the coming week.
This Week's Share
Summer Squash (a.k.a. Zucchini)
... and more!