by Garrett Heaney
Back in the fall, I wrote an article about apple season in Vermont and readers were rightfully impressed with our little state’s ability to produce such a diverse crop — something in the neighborhood of 70 varieties of apple pass through Hunger Mountain Coop alone every year. Now that winter has passed, and we’ve eaten up most of the apples, we can all rejoice in the sun as new crops begin to spring from the earth. It’s a very exciting time of year.
Five years ago in May, I returned home to Vermont after an extended sojourn in Florida, and did so via the volunteer program World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or as it was called at the time, Willing Workers On Organic Farms. It was my first experience with farming, and I found myself living and working on land atop Danby Mountain (Rutland county, just off Route 7 about 10 miles north of Manchester), surrounded by 1,000 acres of conservation land, waterfalls, sugar maples, 40-year-old blueberry bushes, organic vegetable gardens, hoop houses and a greenhouse for seeding. And six grass-fed cows and six happy pigs. And the two dogs the farm was named after — It was called Two Dogs Farm, but if you’re familiar with the area, it is the land that has been owned and operated by the educational program Smokey House Center for decades.
It was at this farm where I first fully appreciated the arrival of new vegetables, week after week, as we harvested for our 35 community shared agriculture shares and three weekly farmers markets. As spring led into summer, seeds and seedlings that we’d put in the ground began to mature at their own rates, and, thanks to proper greenhouse management and an experienced farm manager, we were able to predict with very good accuracy, what would be ready when.
This article is an attempt to give you a wide angle lens of Vermont’s growing season, and give you a calendar of sorts that will indicate what produce you can expect to see showing up at our local farmers markets and co-ops. If you know me, or you read the aforementioned apple season article (Cover Sept. 17–30, 2015 issue), you know I work at Hunger Mountain Coop here in town, and, more specifically, in the produce department. I mention this only to reveal to the reader that I have a unique insider’s perspective of the buying schedules we maintain with our local farms and farmers.
Like many regions, farming in Vermont has its own rhythm. Sure, some of the big guys out there like Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury can grow pretty much anything, anytime, thanks to large, temperature controlled greenhouses, but when they, like most farmers, grow primarily outside, you have to work with the few-months window you’re given, and you have to manage your space according to the individual maturation schedules of the fruits and vegetables that you’re seeding. And there are a lot of choices … High Mowing Seed company of Wolcott (soon moving to Hyde Park), started with just 28 seed varieties in 1996 and now has over 600, when you include fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
So, now that the sun is out and things are starting to green up, what should we be looking forward to in the weeks and months to come?
I spoke with Annie Coughlin, a produce buyer and colleague, and she was very helpful in detailing which farms we would be sourcing which vegetables from, and when. A cross reference with vendors from the Capital City Farmers’ Market which will be kicking off here in May and run through October (in the parking lot between Julio’s and Christ Church on State Street) confirmed that the following is a pretty good indicator of specific vegetables’ harvest debuts.
Here we are in mid-April — and this is the season we start seeing some of our local greens start rolling in. We see some local chard, kale, mustard greens and mizuna. Herbwise we can expect to see local cilantro very soon.
In May — things really start popping and we see more greens, along with some brassicas and herbs. We’ll have local cucumbers (slicer and European varieties), radishes, Napa cabbage, mesclun, spinach, arugula, braising greens, dandelion, cress, lettuce (red leaf, green leaf and romaine), parsley (flat/Italian and curly), dill, basil, oregano, mint, lemon balm and the much anticipated rhubarb!
In June — some of the bigger vegetables have begun to mature and make their way onto the shelves and into the markets: Eggplant (traditional and Japanese varieties), broccoli, kohlrabi, TOMATOES! (cluster, cherry and heirloom varieties). Our leeks and scallions are ready and we also get some beet greens and collards. By mid-June we get our first green beans, wax beans and the always coveted (and easier to spot during harvest) purple string beans! Also … the beginning of the short-lived strawberry season!
In July — things are really in full swing at most Vermont farms and we get to taste our bell peppers (if you’ve never grown peppers, you might be surprised to learn that green peppers are simply red, yellow, orange or purple peppers that haven’t grown all the way to maturity, and hence aren’t quite as sweet), hot peppers (jalapeño, poblano, cayenne, ornamental), snap peas, snow peas and shell peas, summer squashes and zucchinis, cabbages (red, green, savoy and arrowhead varieties), cauliflower, celery, beets, onions, potatoes (red, gold, russet, purple and various fingerling varieties), valentine radishes, rutabaga, fennel, turnip and thyme! And don’t forget the blueberries!
In August — farmers start to dig up their carrots (if they hadn’t already in July), daikon and shallots. Radicchio has also had its full three months to mature and sweet corn is in full swing! The early winter squashes also become available and the raspberries are ripe for the picking!
In September — we see celeriac, brussels sprouts and rainbow roots.
In no way is this list complete or exact — while there are trends in the vegetable farming business, it is also dependent on things like weather, rainfall, irrigation practices, weeding practices, fertilization, pest and greenhouse management, along with a thousand other elements that are either within or outside a farmer’s control. What I hope this article will do is get you excited and help you to appreciate the season that is upon us, to start thinking about the food that is growing all around you — and for many of you, right in your own backyard!