Monday, November 26, 2007

End of Season Finale (Finally!)

On October 29 we finally had a frost after most of the month had unseasonably warm summer like temperatures. I couldn’t protest much as this helped to facilitate the maturation of my fall garden which was already as much as a month behind schedule for several of the crops I normally plant for fall.

Not only was it the first frost (normal first frosts occur early October in this area), but it was a killing frost, meaning that according to local weathermen, the growing season had officially ended. I had just begun harvesting the first heads of a larger than usual cauliflower and broccoli crop (approximately 1000 plants covering more than ¼ acre). Broccoli is more hardy (can tolerate temperatures down to 20 degrees before damage occurs), but I was a little concerned that the cauliflower might be damaged some by the cold. Fortunately it came through in relatively good shape despite the fact that, following that first frost, we had about four more nights of what I would consider as killing frosts.

Ever since I first successfully grew the varieties “Cheddar” (bright orange) and “Graffiti” (brilliant purple) cauliflower several years ago I have vowed that I was going to grow in addition to these two, “Fremont” (a superb white variety) and the ever so spectacular lime green with a conical and spiraled head, “Romanesco” and have them all four, along with some broccoli, on my farmers’ market table at the same time.

The problem is that information on the seed packets show as much as a three week difference in the “days to maturity” between “Cheddar” and “Graffiti” and despite the statement that “Romanesco” is supposed to mature in about eighty five days, my own past experience with this variety has been that maturation occurred spread out all over a range of 80 to 150 days.

So the trick is to guess how far apart to seed these varieties in the early summer in order to have a decent shot at having them all ready to pile on my market table at the same time to build my spectacular display. Throw in a few more variables like some “no see um" pests that get on some of the plants before I ever get them out of the greenhouse, midsummer drought and heat as I am transplanting them to the field in mid July, two weeks of nonstop rain and an onslaught of weeds in early August, and a voracious attack of harlequin bugs and cabbage worms throughout August and September. Then one begins to see how challenging it is to even get a crop, not to mention getting it to mature when you want it to!

Well the white cauliflower was heading up nicely by mid October and in fact presented me with some 5 – 6 lb heads that brought nearly $10 each at the market, a record! The orange variety was next to come in (right along with the broccoli) a little more than a week later and also did quite well. I was able to put white in the CSA boxes on Oct 16 and orange in on Oct 23, the last CSA day. The purple variety was still looking quite puny and pathetic at this time and had not even begun to head up, leading me to think that it would probably be a complete failure. The Romanesco was just beginning to slowly develop small heads and I knew that if I was patient it would get there eventually.

Well guess what! On November 10 I finally found enough purple cauliflower to put together with a still fairly abundant amount of orange and even a few remaining heads of the white, together with some nice broccoli and the now emerging green Romanesco, to build my long dreamed of market display. I must admit that I felt really proud to have such a nice display on my final day of the 2007 farmers’ market season. When I go back and add up the tallies of farmers market and restaurant cauliflower and broccoli sales since Oct 13, and estimate in the values of these crops I put into the CSA boxes the final two weeks of the CSA season, I come up with a total value well in excess of $2000. Friday I went out right before dark in my insulated coveralls and harvested another bushel or so of a mixture of purple and green cauliflower which I still hope to sell at the upscale restaurant in town, not bad for a second crop on that little more than ¼ acre plot.

I’ve been spending much of the past few weeks laying ceramic tile in the basement of the new house and building fence connecting the packing shed and barn to the house and yard. The over winter garlic, onion, kale, and spinach crops are up near the house and the clover cover crop in the remainder of the garden field, though planted late, is up. I would like to get some hunting in before the end of this week. If I get the chance I may shoot a couple of those pesky deer that tried to fatten themselves on my edamame soybeans this past summer. The end of the growing season finale has arrived! Finally!