As the weather stabilizes and people start to think about fresh produce, many of us are planting gardens and many of us are rediscovering the bounty at the Umpqua Valley Farmer Market.
New to the market this year are Nick and Krystal Baltus of Melqua. Recently of Pennsylvania and originally from Minnesota and Colorado, they and their young son, Aidan, have found Douglas County much to their liking and a good fit for their sustainable growing plans with Integral Farm. They traveled most of the US looking for the right spot to plant their dreams and in the words of Goldilocks, Douglas County was “just right.”
They purchased a 10-acre parcel and are in their second year of growing, using a hoop house or high tunnel for early produce and to extend the fall growing season. They are Certified Naturally Grown and plan to sell CSA (community supported agriculture) shares as well as to a few local restaurants, as well as at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market.
Right now, looking down slope from their patio, their hard work is apparent. A lush early garden spreads out on the gentle slope where sections that they refer to as blocks instead of rows, show up in beautiful shades of green.
As we walked down to the half-acre that is currently in production, young Aidan was so excited to show off his own personal garden and name off what he was growing. When we went into the hoop house, he exclaimed over the cucumbers that were almost ready to be picked from the neatly trellised vines and explained what tomatoes were and how they could climb up instead of sprawled across the ground. He is a wealth of information and an enthusiastic gardener in the making.
Long rows of strawberries head downslope, heavy with clusters of berries, some already dark pink. Ground cover is used under the strawberries, which keeps the weeds to a minimum, keeps them clean and warms the soil. Aidan informed me that they weren’t quite ready, “but pretty soon…”
Something I found particularly interesting was the method for harvesting the microgreens, which include chard, several lettuces, spinach and kale. These are sold bagged and ready to use. Harvested by cutting when they are just three to four inches tall, I couldn’t imagine the back breaking job it must be to trim them. Then Nick showed me the magic machine.
Similar to an old fashioned reel mower, this contraption is pushed over the block of microgreens, with a cutting blade powered by a cordless drill. The greens are fed into a hopper as they are cut, and the hopper is transferred to a tub. What a marvelous invention!
Nick and Krystal intend to have a full variety of produce as the season progresses. The ground had been growing grass for hay until they took over, so the ground hadn’t been worked in a number of years. Nick uses a BCS rototiller, also known as a two-wheel tractor, to work the soil, aiming to eventually go with the no till method. Meanwhile, he tills blocks of soil into manicured beds ready to plant. Strips of sod are left between the growing blocks to cut down on soil erosion and mud.
Krystal, who is a self proclaimed computer addict, uses methods not often seen on small farms… everything they do, buy, grow and sell is documented on her computer. At a glance and click of a few keys, she can tell you where the seed was purchased, when the first sprouts emerged (Integral Farm starts all their own seedlings), when they were set out, when the first harvest occurred, amount of harvest and length of harvest. She also records resistance to pests, customer feedback and any other things that will help them plan for the next year.
She also works the farm beside Nick during all phases of the operation. This is high tech gardening, with a lot of old fashioned low tech techniques employed, too. Proving that she is a gardener not only by profession, but in her soul, when I asked her how she picks out seeds, she grinned and said “I’d like to buy ‘em all.”
Sustainability has become a buzz word in the agricultural world. Since most market growers are either organic or naturally grown producers, they are strictly limited as to how they can feed the soil. Soil that isn’t fed and kept supplied with nutrients means diminished yield and diminished quality of produce, so it is of utmost importance to take care of the soil. With sustainability in mind, this might mean adding compost, such as grass trimmings, leaves, composted animal manure and cover crops.
Integral Farm doesn’t use animal manure but they have large compost piles working near the growing area, ready to be used as needed. Sustainability also means finding ways to use water in less wasteful ways, such as drip line instead of overhead irrigation where much of the water applied is lost to evaporation. Nick and Krystal use water from the Umpqua River, supplied by the Galesville Irrigation system.
Soil compaction is limited by using the smaller, lighter equipment and no-till methods. By using these methods, a relatively small plot of land can provide food for many while also building the soil and conserving water.
When you find yourself craving some fresh (and by fresh I mean fresh from the field, not fresh from 1,000 miles away a few days ago), local, (and by local I mean 10 miles or so from where it was growing), spring veggies, stop at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and check out Integral Farm and all the other vendors. The market is located at the big Methodist church on Harvard.