September just flew by! The season’s last Morganton Farmers’ Market on Saturday October 1st. From then on, we’ll have vegetables, chicken, eggs, and pork at Farmer Fridays at the Catawba Valley Brewing Company on Friday afternoons from 4-6:00 pm. We will continue to have vegetables like lettuce, Swiss chard, lettuce mix, kale, and radishes as the cooler weather continues. Conover and Hickory markets continue through the mix of October.
As the days shorten we can practically see the plants’ growth slow. Lettuce, arugula, and radishes that would have practically exploded form the ground in May are now slowly growing. A whole week after germination and the seedlings still only have their first set of leaves. Shorter days mean we can start work later and end a little earlier. But there is still plenty to do harvesting, cleaning up, and seeding cover crops. That means we have to run around faster while we do work to make sure we get it all done. The changing of the seasons does make us think of cooler days with a resting farm. Until then you can still find us out in the field.
Sweet Potato Harvest
Today we harvested sweet potatoes. We thought we were just looking for the colorful roots of sweet potatoes. But the harvest turned into an insect and spider safari. Sweet potatoes form a dense canopy of vines providing a great habitat for all kinds of critters. One of the more exciting finds of the day was a small salamander hiding in the debris on the soil surface. A gross find was a whole section of garden bed filled with large white grubs. We collected them as we dug through the soil and fed them to the layer hens-they loved them! We also found more of our arch-nemeses the squash bugs. They had headed into the cover of the sweet potatoes to begin bedding down for winter. In the cooler weather they are slow movers and we could easily squish them! Another exciting find in the jungle were hoards of young wolf spiders. Wolf spiders are the large brown spiders that move very quickly along the ground. They are great generalist predators to have in the garden. The whole surface of the soil had hundreds of little spiders (their bodies were only the size of a pencil led with legs extending out to the diameter of a dime.
Late Summer Color from tithonia or mexican sunflower
Some of the insects we found were pests, but many of them like the spiders are beneficial creatures. Amphibians like toads and salamanders that we find in the garden also play helpful roles eating insects. This entire micro-ecosystem would not be possible with the extensive use of poisons for weeds or insects. Organic practices allow beneficial insects and animals to thrive because there is a diverse base of prey species. When they live in a good balance together problems are kept to a minimum while the whole farm ecosystem thrives.
Not just for sweet potato casserole! These tasty jewels are great baked, boiled, or incorporated with black beans and perhaps chorizo sausage for a tasty main dish. We harvested several varieties with imaginative names such as Ginseng, Carolina Ruby, Bradshaw, and Covington. Like many fruits and vegetables the grand variety of sweet potatoes has been reduced to only a few commercially available. As usual these varieties are selected for transport and storage ability, not necessarily flavor.
Sweet Potato Jungle with harvested potatoes in background