Diggin Deeper: Slow Burn Summer

The summer is finally kicking in and it seems that Sonoma is once again one of the cooler growing regions in the Bay Area.  This can be frustrating when our 1,500 tomatoes plants (of 12 different varieties!) are waiting patiently for a heat wave to start the ripening process of all their green fruit. However, this constant game with Mother Nature is one of the exciting challenges of farming. The cool weather has helped the quarter acre of specialty potatoes, especially the Purple Vikings and French Fingerlings, which Eddy and the chefs are using in our Potato and Green Bean Salad with Heritage Bacon in the deli.

Each growing season, farmers have to decide which crops to “go big” on and which crops to cut back on.  This isn’t easy, because you might cut a crop or variety that you really love to grow for business reasons; other times, the weather hasn’t cooperated the past few seasons, bringing into question whether you’re in the right region for that specific crop. The other factor that comes into play is the market demand and price for that crop.  For example, Andy at Mariquita Farm was the first farmer in the area to plant the Pimiento De Padron pepper, and now over 10 growers in the area are planting Pardons.  This means that Andy has to make sure that there still market demand before he plants the seeds in the spring.

Our one acre plot, planted with tomatoes

The Bi-Rite Farm has a very unique situation when it comes to marketing the vegetables we grow, because we have a deli that uses so much of the produce.  Most of the veggies we grow are for our deli’s seasonal menu, and the rest we highlight in the produce department and at 18 Reasons events.  Bi-Rite Farms are just under an acre and a half, which isn’t much if you’re trying to grow crops to supply a menu of prepared foods that will last our kitchen 2-3 months. This year we decided to grow fewer varieties of vegetables, and plant more of the crops that have done well the past few seasons and are perfect for deli dishes.  A crop that has been especially enjoyable to grow is rainbow carrots: it’s amazing how many varieties of carrots are out there,  each with its own sweetness and texture.  The benefit of growing your own food is that you can harvest it when you want and it’s always as fresh as possible.  So if you want to roast carrots whole when they’re baby and extra tender, you have the option–or you can let them fully mature and develop their entire sweet flavor!

Potatoes are another crop that are fun to harvest at different times of the season.  In early July the potatoes had a very delicate skin and super sweet flavor; as they’ve matured they’ve gotten bigger, with a greater yield and tougher skin which lengthens their storage life.

We also grow 6 varieties of summer squash for our soups and pasta dishes. The eggplants are looking great and just started to produce; specialty varieties like the Orient Charm and Rosa Bianca are so flavorful and tender when they are harvested a bit smaller, and can be prepared in many ways.

Last but not least is the tomato crop.  This year we decided to increase our tomato planting by 100%, hoping to supply the kitchen with enough tomatoes for deli dishes and Sergio’s Famous Gazpacho.  We also have 600 “sauce variety” tomato plants that we’ll turn into our own roasted tomato sauce to sell by the jar.  The plants look healthy and the fruit is setting up–we just need them to ripen! Stay tuned…

We recently added our first chickens to the Sonoma farm, and can’t wait for them to start laying eggs. The thirty chickens are 4 ½ months old; they’ll start laying around 6 months.  We’ve been feeding them culled squash and other bruised/unsellable veggies–quite the life they’re leading in the chicken coop we built them! We have 3 breeds of chickens: Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, and Barred Rocks.  At the moment 30 birds seems like a lot, but once they start producing eggs they we will probably only lay 18-20 eggs a day, or 10 dozen a week.  This will not be enough to sell at the Market on a continuous basis, but gives us the opportunity to better understand egg production and gain a greater appreciation for all the hard work our ranchers do.

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