Saturday, February 21, 2009

A New Season on the Farm

This is the first in what we hope will be a regular series of articles about Leigh Hauter and his CSA operation at Bull Run Farm in The Plains, Virginia. Leigh has been farming in the Washington area for 15 years, first at the Cheseapeake Bay Foundation's Clagett Farm in Prince George's County. He was involved in early efforts to bring a farmers market to underserved residents of the District of Columbia east of the Anacostia River. Leigh now has about 500 subscribers to his CSA. His wife Wenonah is executive director of the advocacy group Food and Water Watch.

Signs of life are beginning to appear on the farm. For Leigh Hauter, that means ramping up the heating system in his greenhouse--fixing leaky pipes, lighting the furnace and planting seeds.

A constant temperature of at least 70 degrees is necessary to prompt germination in thousands of pepper and eggplant seeds. Leigh has a fairly new, high-efficiency furnace fired by the wood that grows on the farm. The system runs hot water--90 to 100 degrees--through copper pipes under his seed trays, giving the seeds a nice warm bed in which to sprout and keeping the greenhouse toasty when nighttime temperatures dip.

Leigh is aiming for a last frost date of April 15, so he's planting things now that typically require at least eight weeks in seed trays before they can be safely transplanted outdoors. That means peppers and eggplants by the thousands. He's planted at least eight different varieties of bell peppers--red, orange, purple, white among them--and more hot peppers than he can count. That will mean plenty of visual interest when subscribers open their CSA boxes later in the year.

Leigh is also starting to plant tomatoes. He hopes to be shipping two varieties of cherry tomatoes--Early Girl and Siberian--as early as the middle of June. This is also onion planting time, but Leigh does not plant his own onions. He purchases thousands of plants in bunches from a firm in Indiana. They'll be planted in the ground later.

Also at this time Leigh is planting broccoli. His customers like broccoli and unlike some other brassicas, such as cauliflower, broccoli will withstand a bit of frost. He's planning four successive crops, aiming for 1,000 plants in each spaced one week apart.

Leigh used to start his CSA deliveries in May, but at that time of the year the crops available for harvest are mostly greens. "People don't like six weeks of greens," he said, "so I'm giving them three weeks." Asked if he wasn't including spinach among his early crops, Leigh said, "I have a hard time finding spinach that doesn't bolt in this season." We have the same problem with bolting spinach. Spring in Washington gets too hot too fast.

Leigh Hauter is a former English teacher whose introduction to the farm was keeping bees at the urging of his father-in-law. Leigh sold the honey at farmers markets and has since managed to make farming a full-time occupation. We'll be checking in on him on a weekly basis so that kitchen gardeners in our area can see how a professional grows beautiful, bountiful produce.

The above photo is of the greenhouse seed starting operation at One Straw Farm in Baltimore County, taken last July.


Sylvie said...

Ed - I love that you are doing this series. I look forward to further installments of it.

Kate said...

I love this series, too. It will certainly give me perspective on my little vegetable garden, with which I hope to feed my family someday.

And I used to be a member of Clagett Farm when we lived in Maryland! I have great memories of hauling home 10 pounds of surplus pick-your-own tomatoes for salsa.

Ed Bruske said...

Kate, I hope you find useful information in these stories about Bull Run farm. I know I will. You must have been making a lot of salsa.

Kate said...

I think I will find the info useful. I've also been spying on the way our CSA operates and getting in on the action there whenever possible.

And yes, it was a lot of salsa. I just can't resist free tomatoes. They're my ambrosia!

On the flip side, I can understand why Leigh is trying to cut down on the greens. I love me some spinach and chard, but my recipe book is still bursting with kale recipes after having to eat my least favorite green week after week, especially when I was really craving fresh peas and broccoli.