Reflecting on the 2023 Season

Being a Farmer and a Parent

Late winter greetings! I hope you all are well and looking forward to spring. 2023 was a special season for me because it was my first full season as a parent. I found a rhythm between the usual demands of farming and the demands of parenting. Amanda and I took turns with childcare days and we did our best to balance the work between us. Althea loves the farm and I was grateful for spending time with her in this place which has sustained us all with nourishing food and lovely flowers. It was also special because we faced formidable farming challenges. Still, we produced such an abundance of tasty veggies, and maybe because of the difficulties, valued them even more.

Twice the Work

Many of the spring tasks felt like twice the work because in some instances it was. For example, we lost all of our original eggplant transplants, the first succession of tomatoes, and the cherry tomatoes to a late frost on May 18th. This is the latest frost since the farm’s inception. Although we attempted to protect these vulnerable plants with row covers, we lost over 800 eggplant transplants and 345 tomato plants. I scrambled to acquire replacements through ordering from wholesalers, getting plants from farmer friends in the area, and seeding additional tomatoes.

We were eventually rewarded by our efforts and ended up with the highest yield of tomatoes and eggplant in the farm’s history. The ragtag cherry tomatoes took longer to ripen, but still managed to get there by the end of July. In retrospect, I almost wish we had not planted an extra row of large-fruited tomatoes, since we had multiple 1,000 lb harvests in a row. I reminded the crew that while the CSA members didn’t necessarily want 10 lbs of tomatoes at a time, it was a good problem to have.

The Drought

Even as we dealt with losses from the frost, we had an emerging drought on our hands that lasted until mid June. The 2022 drought was twice as long, but better timed, at least from a farmer’s perspective. Summer is the ideal time for a drought because the summer crops don’t like too much moisture and can avoid disease. Spring crops, while still subject to diseases, are more tolerant and actually prefer a bit of weekly rain to get established. We had to roll with the situation, lay out drip irrigation in the potatoes, move pipes through the fields, continually watering until the drought ended. Like the prior season, most days I woke up before dawn to get a head start on watering.

I was particularly proud of the potato performance. Potatoes require a lot of water to get established and to grow decent-sized tubers. So it is especially gratifying that we achieved this with well timed watering over a critically dry month. The crew did an amazing job pulling drip lines into and out of the potato rows, so we could hill them on a weekly schedule throughout the drought.

Amazing Farm Crew

Given all of the Spring challenges I am so grateful to the 2023 Farm Crew. Big thank you to Rori, Sarah, Hannah, Izzy, Nina, Lielle, & Stephen for doing such a great job! Everyone brought their unique talents to the table and we grew so much tasty produce while having fun at the same time. Since I spent Tuesdays, Fridays, & Saturdays with Althea; the crew took on extra responsibility. 

Rori, Nina, Izzy, & Althea

Rori managed the farm in my absence with her signature decisiveness, positivity and efficiency. I was never worried about the farm because Rori knew what to do. It was Rori’s 4th season at the farm and I’m so glad that she is returning for 2024. Sarah continued to manage Tuesday Pickups with abundant energy and genuine care for the community. I keep hearing from the CSA Members how much they love Sarah. And we’re all lucky because she’ll be here this season too. Hannah seemed like an already seasoned farmer because no matter the weather conditions she took it in stride with optimism. Izzy approached each day with a positive attitude and enthusiasm for growing great food. Nina was always game for whatever challenges came our way. Lielle helped with Tuesday Pickups and reliably showed up with professionalism and excitement. And of course, Stephen is a joy to work with, and rescued us at times when we needed extra help.

Additional Helpers

I am also grateful for a few folks who showed up this season to help us out at various times. We were lucky for a guest appearance of Joe who returned to help us with potato planting and garlic harvest. And special thanks to Joanna, Mike, Andrew, Julie, Jason, Dustin, Peter, and Tait.

How did the crops do overall in 2023?

Really well! Here are some highlights:

  1. We reached a Grand Total Yield of 77,860 lbs, our 2nd highest yield in the farm’s history. 
  2. Lettuce made it into every share! Each season we attempt to have lettuce every week. It’s normal to skip it a few times, but this season we achieved our goal. This is the second year in a row we did this. Lettuce production reached an all-time high of 5,553 lbs.
  3.  Tomato production soared to its highest amount ever of 9,980 lbs. 

Some Misfortunes

While I enjoy celebrating the past season’s achievements it is equally important to learn from its misfortunes. For example we lost all of the onions in early April. A couple of weeks after transplanting them we noticed that so many plants had gone missing. Upon further investigation we discovered a systemic infestation of root maggots that had decimated the entire planting.

Additionally, melon production was somewhat disappointing. Before transplanting I noticed a significant aphid presence on the seedlings. Consequently, we had to use much weaker seedlings that were more prone to disease and produced fewer melons. We still had melons, but not as many as we had hoped for.

These two misfortunes are humbling and instructive. Not every crop performs well every season, and that is why I create a diversified crop plan. Even if some crops don’t do well, we can be assured that many others will succeed.

Climate Change & Smoke in the Air

Droughts are difficult, but this year we all had to contend with heavy smoke at the same time. I’m sure you all remember these smokey days in June when the air was thick with smoke. We even had to cancel work one day because of poor air quality. This is connected to our changing climate as wildfires are larger and more frequent.

According to The Guardian “Researchers at First Street Foundation, a non-profit that analyzes climate risk, found that one in four Americans are already exposed to air that is deemed “unhealthy” by the Air Quality Index (AQI), which provides daily air quality readings. That number is expected to grow by 50% in the next few decades.” This is a global problem, it is overwhelming, and we are all in it together. The farm crew persevered through the 2023 smoke and we did our best to navigate this difficult reality.

Cover Crops Towering Above Us

In more positive news, we grew some impressive summer cover crops in 2023. We are committed to organic growing practices at Tinicum CSA, and a major part of that effort includes growing diverse cover crops. We enjoyed taking time to walk through this lush planting of sunn hemp, sorghum sudan grass, sunflower, & cowpeas. It was fun to note the different characteristics of the roots and stems. And it feels good to know that so much organic matter and nitrogen is being added to the fields to build healthy soil.

We also continued to grow strips of cover crops within the potato patch to attract beneficial insects. I was excited to try out a new-to-me combination of buckwheat, phacelia, cosmos, vetch, radish, and clover. The phacelia graced the field with extremely beautiful flowers and countless pollinators and ladybugs enjoyed being there.

Crops we grew more than a ton (2,000 lbs) of:

  • Beets
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce
  • Melons
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Summer Squash
  • Winter Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Winning Big at the County Fair

We submitted two dozen entries at the Bucks County Grange Fair in August. And your farm won big at the Fair! We placed in twenty categories, winning 8 blue ribbons and 5 red ribbons. Winning 1st place for potatoes, garlic, carrots, and lettuce was especially gratifying. It was fun to take Althea to the Fair to check out our award winning produce. 

You Invested In Your Community

Signing up for a CSA goes beyond just getting fresh local veggies for your family. You should all be proud of how you invested in your community.

  1. By joining Tinicum CSA in 2023 you supported the livelihoods of 8 people. Thanks for helping the farm to provide meaningful work for folks interested in farming!
  2. We received 8 Donated Shares, which shows a continued spirit of generosity. This helps Tinicum CSA be a part of the local effort to reduce food insecurity by providing healthy produce to local families in need for an entire season. Thank you! 

So far we have 1 share donated for 2024 and our goal is to get to at least 10. Visit our website here to Donate A Share.

  1. And the farm continued to donate extra kale, lettuce, squash and other veggies to Rolling Harvest Food Rescue, helping to fulfill their mission of connecting local farmers with neighbors in need.

Before we know it, the flowers will be in bloom. And I hope to see you all soon out in the field. I’m looking forward to the 2024 Season!