Timing CSA Plantings

Summer 2006
Photo: Hope’s Edge Farm

Almost 1% of Maine families are getting summer produce from Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs). “A lot more would like to but don’t know how to connect,” said Russell Libby at a MOFGA-sponsored talk at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in January.

To inspire others to start such farms, Tom Griffin of Hope’s Edge Farm in Hope told how he was making his 80-share CSA farm work, from word-of-mouth advertising to scheduling planting so that few or no “holes” occur in produce availability.

Griffin has been farming and gardening biodynamically for over 14 years, six of them on an intentional community in Pennsylvania where he was responsible for over 20 acres of vegetables that supplied the 120-member community and a 30-share CSA. He has been farming in Maine for eight years and in 2001 started his CSA in Hope.

He cited “selfish reasons” for operating a CSA: People share the risk with the farmer; a market is guaranteed; and customers come to the farmer, rather than vice-versa. “But the biggest reason is the community that forms around it,” he said. Of the customers who started with Griffin, 90% are still members; and 75% of his members return each year. “I know their children’s names, what grade they’re in…”

Griffin readily admits to having stolen the name for his farm from the book Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé. Also, he farms on leased land—a former dairy farm–that is on the edge of the town of Hope, Maine, where he built his house and has a lifetime lease on it.

After starting with 20 full shares his first year, all obtained via advertising flyers, Griffin now has 10 to 15 full shares per year and 60 to 70 half shares, serving about 100 families (some people share their shares or half shares). All of these additional customers came via word-of-mouth. He grows up to 1½ acres of conventionally spaced potatoes, winter squash and sweet corn, which are cultivated with a tractor. About 2 more acres are in permanent beds made with a 52-inch-wide spader. The paths remain vegetated. He grows all of his other crops intensively in these beds.

This intensive area is divided into 50-foot sections, with about four beds per section. Considerable hoeing and hand weeding are done at first, but once the plants fill in, they control the weeds.

Griffin also has 50 laying hens, a few horses, and equipment to make 800 to 1000 bales of hay.

Minimizing Holes

Growers may not completely avoid holes in their crop production, said Griffin, but they can minimize them in several ways. Diversity—growing a large variety of crops—“is just basic farming sense,” he said. Overplanting helps. “Sometimes I plant way too much. I plan on planting 20% more than I expect I’ll need. I will lose some to pests, bolting, etc. Any excess is sold to a local restaurant (Primo) and the Good Tern Co-op in Rockland. What goes by is fed to the chickens.”

Multiple sowings, of lettuce and mesclun especially, are important. He plants about 200 cells of lettuce and mesclun every seven to 10 days, primarily in the spring and fall. “I don’t grow mesclun in the summer because of flea beetles and bolting.”

Lettuce can be difficult to produce nonstop because of bolting and/or wet springs. During the 2005 wet spring, Griffin filled the lettuce niche with mesclun when he couldn’t’ transplant lettuce. For summer use, ‘Sierra’ (a Batavian lettuce) and ‘Anuenue’ (an iceberg type) are dependably bolt resistant, but Slo-Bolt “is ok but doesn’t live up to its name.” ‘Sweet Valentine’ is not bolt resistant at all. This year Griffin is trying ‘Fireball,’ ‘Envy’ and ‘Tropicana’—partly because he couldn’t find seed for ‘Sierra.’ He starts sowing lettuce in April; by about the fourth planting in the greenhouse, he has started planting exclusively bolt-resistant varieties. In 2004, Griffin’s customers had only one week when they didn’t get lettuce.

Mesclun is a “cut and come again crop.” Griffin plants it every 10 to 14 days, getting a few harvests from each sowing.

He sows carrots three times between the beginning of May and mid-June to keep the roots from getting too big and bulky.

Bush beans are planted three times between early June and the second week of July.

Broccoli and cauliflower are started three or four times from mid- to late March, then every 20 days; and a fall crop of a quick maturing variety is sown in late June.

Cucumbers are started in the greenhouse in mid- to late May and are transplanted in mid-June. More cucumbers are direct-seeded in the same rows; these come in when the transplants stop producing well.

For a continuous supply of sweet corn, Griffin starts four varieties on the same day when weather permits, with mid-June being the earliest planting date. The varieties are ‘Kandy Kwik’ (65 days), ‘Spring Treat’ (71), ‘Luscious’ (75) and ‘Argent’ (85).

Three varieties of edamame (green soybeans) are sown: ‘Envy’ (75 days, Johnny’s), Beer Friend (Fedco, 87 days) and ‘Shironomai’ (90 days).

Shell peas are grown as a Pick-Your-Own crop. ‘Coral’ matures first, and ‘Green Arrow’ two weeks later.

Different maturity dates and planting dates ensure continuous green bean production. The first sowing consists of ‘Provider’ (50 days) and ‘Maxibel’ (61) bush beans; 15 to 20 days later, ‘Provider’ bush beans and ‘Northeaster’ pole beans (55 days) are sown; followed in 15 to 20 days by ‘Indy Gold’ (52 days) and ‘Royal Burgundy’ (55 days). Kids like ‘Royal Burgundy’ for their purple color, said Griffin; the beans turn green when cooked. If you don’t like beans, or picking beans, Griffin suggested not following this scheme.

Snap peas sown in early May are ‘Sugar Ann’ (58 days), ‘Sugar Snap’ (68) and snow peas (72); another planting of ‘Sugar Snaps’ goes in later.

Griffin and other CSA growers sometimes give customers shares in return for work; and one grower attending the talk holds a bean-hole supper and Frisbee party in midsummer, when weeds are taking over, to help get weeds under control.

Tom Griffin can be contacted at Hope’s Edge Farm, PO Box 107, W. Rockport ME 04865; [email protected]; 207-542-4097.

– Jean English
Copyright 2006.

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