My friend, Janie, shares some of the vegetables she gets in her weekly Community Supported Agriculture box with me. I like leafy greens while she devours the peppers, lettuces, potatoes, beans – whatever is in season and harvested fresh and delicious that week.
I’d heard about a fabulous place in the Ben Lomond hills, so called Linda Butler, the owner of Lindencroft Farm, to arrange a visit. I learned so much from Linda who took time out from running the farm to show me around.
Linda and her husband, Steven, started the farm in 2007. Their 90 acres is zoned mixed agriculture but since some of it encompasses rare Ben Lomond sandhills habitat, they farm just a couple of acres. They have even installed a wide deer corridor separating the growing areas to allow the deer access to their feeding and watering places.Tall fences protect the beds from other critters but they encourage the birds and bees by planting flowers that seed, attract beneficial insects and produce pollen.
Linda has recently installed a couple of bee hives. She became interested in bees when native bees swarmed for 3 years in a row. She put up boxes one year hoping they would set up housekeeping on the farm, but they failed to come again. Undaunted she bought some bees and the hives are doing well. She doesn’t plan to harvest the honey, she just likes bees.
The Ben Lomond sandhills are an amazing ecosystem and the native plants have adapted to the pure white, fine sand. Vegetables, however, like rich soil to thrive. The Butlers solved this by building special raised beds. First they excavated 3 feet of the sandy soil, lined each bed with steel hardware cloth for gopher control and refilled them with a mix of organic compost, aged and composted horse manure and native soil.
Then they surrounded the beds with a redwood frame. From that point on, the beds are never tilled, compacted or otherwise disturbed by machines or feet. They are refreshed between crops with organic compost.
Asked why the beds are all so deep, Linda explained that she rotates crops regularly and wants to be able to plant deep rooted vegetables, like tomatoes, anywhere she wants. There are now 200 beds in production.
For the first couple of crops in a new bed, she grows leafy greens to establish beneficial microbes in the soil. Larger veggies come later and as she doesn’t till the soil, the microbes aren’t disturbed in any way. Liquid kelp and compost tea are also used for foliar feeding and soil drench. Fish bone meal, not fish meal, which is too high i nitrogen, is also applied to crops.
Starting with just a few play group moms, the farm now grows for two restaurants and harvests enough for a limited number of CSA boxes. A chef from one of the restaurants uses chicory, a bitter green braised and used under rich meats. Another chef makes sausages from grass fed beef and sweetens them with bronze fennel tops and young, fresh seed for flavoring. Those who subscribe to a weekly CSA box enjoy a different mix -lettuces, chard, cole crops, peppers, tomatoes herbs – to name just a few.
Next week in Part 2, I’ll talk about how Linda grows all this wonderful produce and which varieties are her favorites.