Win Some, Lose Some

We are now entering our 9th season! We’ve had great years, tragically awful years and those in between. I think this is shaping up as a “those in between.” The fruit is developing nicely, but I think we’ve grown prettier fruit.

How about a brief farm update?

The only thing we know we can expect is that every season is completely different than all others – it’s part of the engaging and exciting part of farming. This year we came out of that terrible winter in pretty good shape, with a fairly uneventful spring. The trees leafed out nicely, except our trees in Block 1 – they didn’t want to wake up. As the spring wore on, we kept looking at those trees and it dawned on us that the ones not waking up were all Romes – they are interplanted with a few other varieties, and those looked fine. We talked with neighbors and some of them had lost their Romes, also. Weird. We did a count and it appears we have lost 190 Rome trees. These are 20-year-old, mature, well-bearing trees that apparently could not handle the winter. So that’s a new thing: mature trees can die from cold. Huh.

The good news is that most of our other 3000 plus trees are fine, including our new peach trees which we planted last year! Somehow THOSE are fine even though many peach trees across the state experienced winter-kill, but our young, barely established trees seem to be just fine. Honestly, I feel lucky – the Romes are hard to sell and we are all super-excited to grow organic peaches! (First harvest expected in 5 years or so.) So if one had to go….

This cool summer has created organic management challenges. When it’s hot, everything goes quickly – pest lifecycles, diseases and growth. This cool weather has allowed pests to linger, and some of the typical apple diseases have just hung around. This means we make a choice – over-react and spray, spray, spray way more than normal and hope that our “soft” stuff works (which is more of a conventional approach), or stick with the consistent nutrient focus of an organic system, and live with some funky-looking apples. So we chose, and we hope you like, funky looking apples!

Our vegetables have been growing fine, although again, this cool weather means that everything just moves at its own pace. Tomatoes are finally starting to come (we picked 600 pounds this week), but they too are slow to ripen. So as long as we have a normal to late frost, we will be fine, with enough time for them all to ripen.

Ask the raccoons how good the watermelons are this year! Every morning we find remnants of a party, with half-eaten watermelon rinds strewn about. At least they could clean up after themselves. But we have to admire their good taste, as the sugar in the watermelons this year is exceptional.

We are working out the final kinks on the CSA logistics and will start deliveries soon. This crazy idea Molly had to offer an apple CSA has really exploded – it’s now a 300-member CSA in our third year of offering. Add to that the 70 Rent A Tree families, and we’ve heard your overwhelming collective voices – keep growing those apples!

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Surviving the “June drop”

What’s that growing out in the orchard? Looks like, could be, no way….APPLES!!! Yippeee – we are getting ready for an apple harvest!!!

june apples 2013

We have survived spring and June drop and we are so excited to see a nice crop of good looking apples in the orchard!

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May Day

Happy belated May Day – a great day to reflect on the true value of Labor and the importance of the workers of the world.

Right now on the farm, the Paula Reds (our earliest-ripening variety) are in pink – bloom maybe a week away or so!

blossoms 2013

Here’s a pic of our Charentais melon seedlings in the greenhouse.

veg starts 2013

If you are really interested, someone actually has a dedicated page to honoring this fine fruit typically found in southern France.

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Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! We had a great Earth Day today, planting trees!

tree planting 2013

Redhaven peaches, donut peaches, sweet and tart cherries, 3 kinds of plums and many heirloom apples in our new and improved u-pick area – about 400 trees in all.

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2012 Farm News Update

Dear friends,

I think we’ve all heard now that this is one of the worst seasons for fruit in Michigan’s history. It’s true. The warm March set us up for a strange year. 90 degree days in March pushed our trees into bloom starting March 31. We were flowering a full month earlier then I have recollection of, and 5 plus weeks earlier than normal. Than we were hit with 4 good freeze events in April, which is normal, and lost most of our bloom. But we remained hopeful. Then mother nature threw in one of the worst droughts in recent history and high, high temps to boot. And yet we remained hopeful.

But the hope has run out for this year’s apple crop. We prepared last week to pick our first variety, Paula Red. A “normal” yield for us would be 35,000 pounds. This year we picked 700. And they look awful – ravaged by the difficult weather and abused by the insects (“it must be funny or else it would hurt” side note: when the apple crop is short, no one sends a memo to the insects – just as many hatch in a short year as a bumper crop year, so in a short year there is less food, which results in more damage per apple).

As a result, we don’t have enough apples to make our first CSA delivery, or really any other delivery. It’s not uncommon for us to contact our organic apple friends in Michigan to supplement our crop. This year, no one has apples. My friends are now starting to talk with Washington about importing apples. In what is a difficult decision, I would rather suspend our CSA and tree leases for the year then buy apples from Washington to deliver to you as part of your “local” apple crop. I hope you would agree.

We have decided to suspend the CSA and tree rental for 2012 and offer you 2 options:
1. We will refund your payment in full
2. You can opt to roll your 2012 CSA or tree rental into 2013. In other words, we will sign you up as paid for 2013.

Please let us know below what your decision is.

We deeply apologize for getting your hopes up for our yummy, organic apples. We are all disappointed to be reminded, again, that we are not fully in charge. Farming is quite an adventure.

We do have some exciting news to share with you. We have purchased a majority interest in one of Chicago’s coolest, veg-friendly restaurants: The Heartland Café in Rogers Park. After a year and a half of discussions, and several gut-check moments, we took the plunge effective June 13. Heartland is now the city restaurant for Earth First Farms, featuring many of our certified organic fruits and vegetables! Sometimes we are lucky and blessed, and given the weather-driven curve ball we experienced this year, buying the Heartland has given us renewed energy and excitement. We have now built a greenhouse and (thank you, Gonsalo!) built an irrigation system for our vegetables – we couldn’t dodge the freeze, but our irrigation helped us dodge the drought.

Next year we will utilize the Heartland as a drop for our CSA. Starting now, you can now place bulk orders for vegetables to be picked up there.

We hope to see you at The Heartland so you can sample the new farm cooking. As a CSA member benefit, we will be sending you a buy one / get one free meal coupon via email. Come see us soon!

Thanks again for your support,

Tom Rosenfeld
and the rest of the Earth First Farms crew

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