In recent weeks, the Langwater crew has spent long afternoons unearthing sweet potatoes. After lunch we pile into trucks or hoof it out to the field, and find our place patiently filling crate after crate until the sun sinks behind the stone wall and the high tunnels are aglow with the last crimson light. It’s a surprisingly complicated process, bringing those auburn, sugary roots to your table. At Langwater Farm we grow Covingtons and Beauregards, traditional orange sweet potatoes, along with a handsome blonde variety named O’Henry. Their path to your plate begins in June when we lift the soil into raised beds covered with plastic mulch. The mulch warms the soil and we plant ‘slips’ (rooted stems) deeply into the earth below. The sweet potato field is weeded with hoes and with tractors for many weeks until the plants’ vining inclination takes over and the field is full of sprawling green growth. And then we wait. In September we tested a few plants, forking their ginger masses out of the soil. Not quite yet. We decided to give them a few more weeks to size up in the ground. On the cusp of October we took the plunge and began the annual sweet potato harvest. It goes like this- 1. Mow down the sprawling vines. 2. Come through with a weedwacker to cut vines even shorter, right to the ground. 3. Unearth the roots with the potato digger. 4. Crate sweet potatoes by hand, sorting as we go and giving a clean cut to any rough edges. 5. Carry crates out of the field onto a truck or tractor. 6. Cure sweet potatoes in a warm greenhouse, allowing sugars to develop. 7. Enjoy! Roast, steam or fry these awesome, nutritious roots. If you’re like us, you’ll want to eat them right away even though they’ll be even better in January…
As we brace ourselves for our first heat wave in two years, we take solace in the fact that the hot days and warm nights will expidite tomato ripening. In addition to keeping ourselves well hydrated through this stretch, we’ll also be mindful of our plants’ increasing water requirements. Irrigation becomes a high priority in weather like this. Fortunately we’re ready for the job. Earlier in the summer, in spite of ample rain from frequent thunderstorms, we prepared for these days by laying out miles of drip irrigation tape underneath plastic beds and setting up the infrastructure to feed these lines. Now the work will shift to moving around the PVC manifolds that we’ve built to connect the different irrigation zones and keeping the pump running. Our drip or trickle irrigation system is a very efficient and sustainable way of supplying the plants with water. All the water is released 2″ below the surface of the soil and none is lost through run off or evaporation. Any excess will leach right back down the hill and be returned to the pond.
Irrigation isn’t the only priority for this week. We’ll continue to cultivate and maintain established crops, hand weed the young emerging crops, and keep planting many successions of Fall crops. This week, the last of the Fall carrots and beets will go in and the first plantings of Macomber turnips and watermelon radishes will be seeded. We hope to see you at the farmstand this week and don’t forget to eat lots of vegetables and drink plenty of water in this heat!
As temperatures climb, the Langwater Crew loads into trucks by 7:00 a.m. for the daily harvest. 3×5 notecards with scrawled harvest numbers are tucked into the pockets of our work pants. Glove boxes are stuffed with rubber bands. Truck beds are filled with empty crates and sleepy harvesters. Folks on the crew are known for their proficiency with certain crops. Max, who later in the season will spend countless hours picking perfectly ripe red tomatoes, spends his early summer mornings in the strawberry field filling tray after tray of deep crimson berries. Newcomers to the Langwater Crew spend their first weeks being trained on the surprisingly elusive art of bunching. Bunching radishes. Bunching beets. Bunching hakurei turnips. Bunching so that each bunch is nearly identical. Bunching with ever increasing speed.
Tender greens benefit from cooler morning temperatures and so we devote the early hours to Lettuce, Arugula, Mustard, Kale… Kale is a crew favorite. Right now, kale plants are lush and full, making for quick picking. Unlike those pesky roots that must be arranged just so, a kale bunch comes easier to most novice harvesters. Every 10- 15- 20 bunches, I pause to collect our bunches into crates. By 8:00 a.m. our first truck stacked tall with curly, lacinato, red Russian and all of kale’s cousins is ambling down the farm road for a dip in cool tubs of water before they make their way to you. Periodically throughout the morning, trucks follow the path of the first with herbs, roots and berries until we’ve harvested all of your food for the day. The vegetables are off to our farmstand, markets and restaurants. We are off to our afternoon weeding projects…