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vegetable crops

Posted 10/18/2018 9:30am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Beets might be humble-looking on the outside, but on the inside, they're packed with flavor and nutrition. Consuming a beet root infuses your body with potassium, manganese, folic acid, and lots of fiber. And if you enjoy the greens, you're boosting your levels of calcium, iron, and Vitamins A and C. Beets are one of our favorite crops to grow here at the farm because they're cold- and heat-tolerant, easy to grow using organic techniques, and a favorite of our customers.  

Harvested Beets from Cherry Valley Organics Farm

The low-down on beets  

Like carrots and Swiss chard, beets are biennial. This means the first year of growth, the plant produces only a root and greens. The second year of growth, they flower and set seeds, but only if the roots manage to overwinter in the field or garden. If you garden in a milder climate, the plants will easily survive the winter. But, here in Pennsylvania, in order to overwinter beets, you have to protect the roots with a thick layer of mulch, a cold frame, or a polytunnel. Because of this, in cold regions like ours, beets are typically grown as an annual crop where they're planted and harvested within the same season.  

Beets ready for harvest

Beets are a multi-purpose crop. Not only are the roots delicious roasted, sautéed, and baked, but the greens are super flavorful when stir fried, braised, or sautéed with a bit of garlic and olive oil.  

One of the most unique features of beets is that almost all varieties have multigerm seeds. This means that each seed consists of a grouping of embryos, rather than just one. The result is multiple plants emerging from each seed, making thinning absolutely necessary if you want to grow large roots.  

Beet varieties  

A healthy, productive beet crop starts with selecting the right varieties. While there are dozens of beet varieties available from seed companies, we're particularly fond of these three:  

'Red Ace': This old-fashioned, deep red beet has long been a favorite of farmers, gardeners, and cooks. The roots have a classic beet flavor that sweetens even more when the plants have been exposed to frosts. With green tops and high germination rates, 'Red Ace' has been a staple on our farm for many seasons.  

Red Ace beets

'Bull's Blood': If you enjoy eating beautiful and flavorful beet greens, then this is the variety for you! Yes, the fleshy, red roots are super-flavorful, but the greens steal the culinary show on this variety. Rather than being green, the foliage on 'Bull's Blood' is a crimson red, making it as beautiful on the plate as it is in the garden.  

Bull's Blood beets

'Touchstone Gold': If you've spied a 'Touchstone Gold' beet at our farm stand or in your box of farm share goodies, then you know what a beautiful beet this is. Deep orange skin surrounds golden yellow flesh that retains its bright color when cooked. The sweet flavor of this variety is a real standout, and since the roots don't "bleed" red when they're cooked, 'Touchstone Gold' is great for use in stir fries and steamed or roasted veggie mixes.  

Touchstone Gold beets

How to sow and grow beets  

Here at the farm, Tim plants beets by direct sowing the seeds into the field. While you can start beet seeds indoors under grow lights in the late winter and then transplant the young seedlings out into the garden when spring arrives, we find it's far easier to plant the seeds right out into the field. The seeds are sown about one-half inch deep and three inches apart in early spring. Beets are very cold tolerant, so they're typically one of the first crops to be planted each spring. Then, we continue to sow more seeds every four weeks throughout the growing season. This enables us to have a continuous harvest of roots and greens for our customers.  

Sowing beet seeds in the garden

Once the seedlings are an inch or two tall, they're thinned by hand. We select the largest plant in each cluster and pull the weaker ones out to give the remaining plants plenty of room to grow.  

Beet rows can be mulched with straw or shredded leaves to limit competition from weeds and keep the soil moisture levels even, but this isn't necessary as long as you're willing to weed and water when it's necessary.  

When to harvest beets

Harvesting beets  

As mentioned earlier, beets produce multiple harvests.

  • Beet greens can be enjoyed as baby greens raw in salad mixes when they're just an inch or two high.
  • Mature beet greens can be cut or pinched from the roots for cooking. You can harvest all the greens from a root, or just take the older leaves and allow the younger ones to continue to grow. Beet roots left in the ground will continue to produce new leaves all season long. 
  • Roots can be picked young and prepared as gourmet baby beets when they reach the size of a ping pong ball. They'll be more tender and will cook faster, too.
  • Mature roots are best harvested when they're the size of a tennis ball. Letting them grow too large could mean pithy, fibrous roots that aren't as sweet. But, if you plan to pickle your beets, any size will do.  

Harvesting and storing beets

Storing beets  

For the longest shelf-life, store unwashed beet roots in a plastic bag in the fridge after cutting of the tops. Leave an inch of the stems attached to keep the root from "bleeding" out moisture in storage.  

You can also store beets in a cold cellar that's between 45-32 degrees F. For this method, pack the roots with their greens removed in layers of slightly damp sand in a plastic or wooden crate.  

If you grow beets in your garden, you can also store the roots right in the ground by mulching your beet-growing bed with 5 inches of straw. When you're ready to harvest, simply pull back the straw and pull out however many roots you'd like. Then, put the mulch back in place. With this method, you'll have beets to enjoy throughout most of the winter.  

For more information about the crops we grow here at Cherry Valley Organics, check out the following articles:

 

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

Sowing, Growing, and Harvesting Beets

Posted 10/4/2018 1:14pm by Cherry Valley Organics.

Did you know that much of the organic garlic that's sold in grocery stores travels hundreds or even thousands of miles before it reaches your kitchen table? Around 75% of the world's garlic comes from China, and while Chinese garlic imports have recently had quotas imposed on them here in the U.S., Chinese garlic is still prevalent on the shelves of many grocery stores. That's a long way for a head of garlic to travel before becoming part of your favorite pesto recipe.

Grocery store garlic that doesn't come from China often comes from California, the U.S. state where the majority of the 500+ million pounds of domestic garlic comes from. What's crazy about this world of well-traveled garlic is that garlic is a fairly easy crop for small farmers and gardeners to grow. Local farmers and backyard plots should be America's source for garlic, not fields half a world away.  

Organic Garlic: Planting and Harvesting

How to grow organic garlic  

We've been growing USDA Certified Organic garlic here at Cherry Valley Organics for many years. We grow garlic for both eating and planting primarily for our Farm Share and farmers market customers here in the western Pennsylvania region, but the method we use to grow organic garlic is applicable to much of North America.  

We start our garlic crop by planting organic garlic bulbs that we saved from the previous year's crop. But for new garlic growers or gardeners who don't have bulbs leftover from last season, we suggest starting with organic garlic heads purchased from small farms like ours. Pittsburgh-area gardeners can contact us to purchase our organic garlic bulbs for planting.  

Organic garlic bulbs ready for planting

Garlic planting time is mid to late October in our region. To begin the process, the heads are split into individual cloves. As you split the cloves, try to keep the papery sheath around each one intact. This helps protect the bulb after it's in the ground. The cloves are then planted into soil amended with organic compost. We suggest a planting depth of 3 to 4 inches and a spacing of 6 to 8 inches apart.  

Once the garlic beds are planted, they're mulched with hay or straw to protect the bulbs from temperature fluctuations and weed competition.  

Mulched beds of organic garlic

Types of organic garlic for planting  

Here at Cherry Valley Organics we grow several different types of garlic. There are two main categories of garlic: softneck and hardneck.

  • Hardneck garlics have a thick stalk that grows from the center of the garlic bulb and produces a twisted, edible flower stalk in mid-summer (see photo below). Hardneck garlics produce fewer cloves per head, but the cloves are larger than softneck varieties. Hardnecks are typically very cold-hardy.
  • Softneck garlics are great for mild climates, though we grow a few hardier softneck types here in Pennsylvania, too. Softneck garlics have no central stalk, their cloves are smaller, but they produce more of them. Softneck garlics store for a long time.   

 

For our farm, this year's crop consisted of two hardneck varieties, 'German Red' and 'German White', and a softneck type named 'Inchelium Red'. We typically plant 3 garlic beds, each over 100 feet long and filled with 7 rows of garlic bulbs. Our annual harvest is over 100 pounds of garlic.  

Organic hardneck garlic scapes

How to harvest and cure organic garlic  

Because our farm is certified organic, we do not use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides on our organic garlic crop. Come early July, when harvest time arrives, we watch the garlic plants carefully for signs of their readiness for harvest. If you harvest them too early, the cloves may not be as large as you'd like, but if you wait too long to harvest, the heads will split, limiting the shelf life of your harvest. Tim digs our garlic when the tops are one-third yellow. The garlic bulbs are lifted carefully from the soil by hand and the greens are kept attached to the bulbs through the curing process.

Curing organic garlic by laying out to dry

To cure our organic garlic, we lay the newly dug bulbs out in a single layer on an elevated platform in our high tunnel greenhouse. If you don't have a greenhouse, you can complete the curing process in a barn, shed, or garage. Anyplace dry and warm will do. Ideally, the curing site should have good air circulation, too. Do not wash the bulbs prior to curing, but you can brush off any excess soil with a paintbrush or your hands, though it isn't necessary.  

After 2 to 4 weeks passes, the greens will have fully died back and the papery sheath around the heads will be completely dry. At this point, use a sharp scissors to trim off the roots and cut the stems off a few inches above the bulb.  

Freshly harvested garlic ready for curing

Here at the farm, as we complete the curing process, we also grade our organic garlic for quality and size. The biggest bulbs become planting stock for next year. This ensures the genetic trait of a large size is passed on to the next generation. We sell some of these large bulbs to customers for planting in their own gardens; the rest we save for replanting on the farm. The mid-sized bulbs are sold as culinary garlic for kitchen use. Our garlic bulbs cost between $1.00 and $4.00 depending on the size and variety.  

Local matters  

Whether you choose to support a small, organic farmer near you by purchasing organic garlic from them or grow your own crop of backyard garlic, you're on the right path. Not only are you keeping more dollars in your local economy, you're also opening yourself up to quite the culinary adventure.  

Harvested and cured organic garlic

There are hundreds of different types of garlic that you'll never be able to find on grocery store shelves where they carry the same 3 or 4 varieties all the time. By shopping local or growing your own, you can try heirloom garlic varieties that originated all around the world. These varieties can be grown across much of the U.S. and offer a diversity of flavors you won't believe. The Slow Foods Arc of Taste lists more than 200 culturally significant foods in danger of extinction. On that list are three garlic varieties that are a good place to start: 'Inchelium Red', 'Lorz Italian', and 'Spanish Roja'.    

To enjoy our organic garlic, Pittsburgh-area residents can sign up for our Farm Share subscription program and get a weekly delivery from our farm or stop by our market stand on Saturday mornings at the Sewickley Farmer's Market.   

For more on the delicious fruits and vegetables we grow, check out the following articles:

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Farm family

Organic Garlic: How to grow, harvest and cure this bulb

Posted 9/20/2018 1:15pm by Cherry Valley Organics.

If you're a chef, restaurateur, or even a home cook who's looking for a microgreens supplier in Pittsburgh, we have you covered! Our microgreens are crunchy, delicious, and packed with nutrients. And, our USDA organic certification means our microgreens are free from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. Hand-grown under exacting standards, our wide selection of microgreens can supply your Pittsburgh kitchen from April through November.  

Why we're the best microgreens supplier in Pittsburgh  

Types of microgreens for sale in Pittsburgh

Cherry Valley Organics has grown microgreens for sale in Pittsburgh for nearly a decade. We grow our microgreens in our greenhouse under natural sunlight, not inside a concrete building under artificial lights. The compost-based organic growing medium we use results in more flavorful and nutritious microgreens than those grown in peat-based potting soils under LED or other artificial lighting systems.  

Harvesting microgreens for sale

From seed to harvest, everything about our microgreens sold in Pittsburgh is held to the exacting standards of the USDA organic certification process. Even the seeds we purchase for growing microgreens are organic.  

We harvest our microgreens at the peak of their flavor by hand, using a sharp cutting tool to ensure they're cleanly cut and resulting in a longer shelf life. Then our microgreens are carefully packaged and labeled so you know exactly what's inside each bag.  

Microgreens supplier in Pittsburgh

Where to buy our microgreens in Pittsburgh  

As a microgreens supplier in Pittsburgh, we cannot ship microgreens via the postal system due to their perishable nature. But, there are several ways you can purchase our microgreens. If you're a chef or restaurateur in the area, please contact us via email at info@cherryvalleyorganics.com or give us a call at 724-947-0170 for details on pricing or to place an order. We can deliver our microgreens directly to your Pittsburgh-area restaurant (order minimums apply).  

If you're a home cook, you can special order microgreens for pick up at the Saturday morning farmer's market in Sewickley, PA, or become a member of the Cherry Valley Organics Farm Share Program and receive a weekly or bi-weekly delivery of an assortment of our organic fruits and vegetables, including our microgreens.  

Microgreens farm in Pittsburgh

Types of microgreens sold in Pittsburgh by Cherry Valley Organics  

Our microgreen-growing season runs from early April through November. The exact varieties of microgreens we sell changes throughout the growing season according to the growing preferences of each variety, as well as to the needs of the chefs we work with. If you're interested in adding any of the following microgreens to your menu, or if there are other varieties you'd like us to grow for you, feel free to get in touch with us.  

Here's a list of the varieties we currently grow:  

  • 'Red Garnet' Amaranth - The red-pink coloration of this stunning microgreen is found on both the leaves and the stems. Plus, they pack a ton of flavor into a pretty little package.  

Amaranth microgreens

  • Arugula - With the classic peppery flavor of full-grown arugula, these microgreens add quite a kick to salads, sandwiches, and fish dishes.  
  • Sweet Basil - Who doesn't love basil? Even though our basil microgreens are itty bitty in size, they sure hit it big in the flavor department. Every complex note of mature basil is found in basil microgreens as well.  

Basil microgreens

  • Beets - The earthy, sweet flavor of beet microgreens is an experience all its own. A great microgreen for spring dishes, we grow both red-leaved and green-leaved types.  
  • Broccoli - People always seem to be surprised that broccoli microgreens taste exactly like broccoli florets. You can definitely taste the classic broccoli flavor in this customer-favorite microgreen.  
  • Kale - Packed with nutrition, kale microgreens are sweeter and far more tender than mature kale leaves are. We can't ever grow enough of this variety because it's one of our favorites, too.  
  • Mizuna - If you've never tried this Asian green, mizuna microgreens are a great way to sample its flavor. With a hint of mustard flavor, these microgreens add a surprising amount of flavor in spite of their small size.  
  • Peas - Pea microgreens are also sometimes called pea shoots. Their mild, pea-like flavor tastes just like spring. We grow them as both an early- and late-season crop because they much prefer cooler temperatures.  

Pea shoot microgreens

  • Radishes - The peppery bite of a radish microgreen is a slightly milder version of a radish root. Quick to germinate and fast growing, we have a near constant supply of radish microgreens in the spring and fall. They're reliable and delicious.  
  • Sunflowers - Sunflower microgreens (also called sunflower shoots) are among the most unusual microgreens for sale in Pittsburgh. This summertime microgreen is incredibly nutritious. and the nutty flavor is beyond compare. We love them on tomato sandwiches with a bit of mayo and some salt and pepper, but these young sunflower seedlings are also great in salads, wraps, pita pockets, and as a garnish.  

Sunflower shoot microgreens

If you're looking for a microgreen supplier in Pittsburgh, we hope you'll be in touch. Email us at info@cherryvalleyorganics.com or contact us via our website's contact page

Microgreens salad

For more on some of the delicious organic fruits and vegetables we grow here at the farm, check out the following articles:  

- Broccoli leaves: The next big superfood

- Ground cherries: A delicious fruit to tempt your taste buds

- How we grow our oyster and shiitake mushrooms

- Our favorite heirloom tomatoes

- What is patty pan squash?   

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

Posted 9/6/2018 10:48am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Patty pan squash is quite unique. Its squat, flat shape, unique coloration, and ruffled edges might leave you scratching your head with wonder. What is patty pan squash anyway? Is it a winter squash or a summer squash? Do you peel patty pan squash or eat the rind? How the heck do you cook it? Today, we're going to fill you in on this delicious gourmet veggie and tell you everything you need to know about patty pan squash.  

What is a patty pan squash?

What is patty pan squash and how is it different from other squashes?  

Much like zucchini, patty pan is a type of summer squash that's meant to be enjoyed while the skin is still soft and thin so there's no need to peel it. Its flying saucer-like shape is very distinctive and the scalloped edges of the fruits are the genesis of its other common name - the scallopini squash.  

Unlike some other summer squash types, patty pan squash does not have a high moisture content. The flesh is quite dry. Patty pans can be harvested for use as "baby vegetables" when they're as big as a ping pong ball, or you can leave them on the plants until they reach the diameter of a soft ball. But, don't wait much longer than that to harvest or the skin will no longer be smooth and edible.  

Patty pan squash come in many different colors, including yellow, dark green, white, pale green, and even bi-colors. But no matter the color of the fruit, patty pans are equally useful in the kitchen.  

Growing patty pan squash

Growing patty pan squash  

Though they're considered a gourmet summer squash variety, patty pan squash are surprisingly easy to grow. Here at the farm we plant seeds directly in the field as soon as the danger of frost has passed in the spring. In Pennsylvania, that's mid to late May. The seeds are quick to sprout and the vines grow rapidly. Patty pan squash plants are bush-types. They don't grow long, rambling vines like winter squash do. Instead, the plants spread just three or four feet wide with a height of about twenty-four inches.  

Most patty pan squash plants start to produce fruits about 45-55 days after planting, and harvests continue for many weeks thereafter.  

How to grow patty pan squash

We grow several different patty pan squash varieties here at the farm. Here are some of our favorites:  

Jaune et Verte - This crazy patty pan squash is a creamy light green with deep scallops. It's so beautiful!  

Patty pan squash variety

Benning's Green Tint - A hybrid variety with glossy skin, this patty pan variety is a very pale green that matures to a bright white.  

Benning's Green Tint Patty Pan squash

Y-Star -  One of the most fun types of patty pan squash, Y-Star is a bi-color. The top of the fruits are a brilliant yellow and the bottom end is lime green.

Y-Star patty pan squash 

Total Eclipse - This patty pan produces solid green fruits. With great flavor and high productivity, this is a staple variety on our farm.  

Total Eclipse patty pan squash

How to cook patty pan squash  

Whether you try your hand at growing your own patty pan squash or you purchase them from our organic farm via our Farm Share Program or at the Farmers Market, patty pans lend a lot of culinary flare to the kitchen.  

Patty pan squash tastes much like traditional zucchini, though the texture is a bit drier. Use patty pans in any recipe that calls for zucchini. They can also be grilled, fried, or roasted. One of our favorite ways to prepare patty pan squash is stuffed with seasoned beans, rice, and shredded chicken or pork and then roasted.  

How to cook patty pan squash

Patty pan squash recipes  

If you're looking to try a new culinary adventure with your patty pan squash, try one of these great recipes:  

Roasted Patty Pan Squash with Herbed Chickpeas  

Patty Pan Squash Stuffed with Corn  

Fried Patty Pan Squash

Patty Pan Squash and Peach Salad  

Grilled Patty pan Squash with Hot Chorizo Vinaigrette

We hope you enjoy the firm texture and savory flavor of patty pan squash as much as we do!  

For more information about some of the more unusual vegetables we grow here at the farm, check out the following posts:  

 

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family   

What is a patty pan squash and how to grow them.   

Posted 8/23/2018 10:26am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Cucumbers can be a notoriously challenging crop for farmers. Many varieties are susceptible to a devastating pathogen known as bacterial wilt that's spread by a small insect called the cucumber beetle. Just when the plants are about to produce, the vines wilt, turn brown, and die. It's heart-breaking. But, there are lots of upsides to cucumber farming, too. We're always getting feedback from our customers about how our cucumbers taste so much better than the wax-coated cukes they get at the grocery store.  

Harvested cucumbers

Our method of cucumber farming  

As a USDA Certified Organic farm, here at Cherry Valley Organics we start the cucumber farming process by selecting the best varieties for our climate. We seek out cucumber varieties with a natural resistance to an array of diseases, such as powdery mildew, anthracnose, and cucumber mosaic virus. And, of course, we also keep flavor and texture in mind, too. It's essential that we grow cultivars that size-up consistently and uniformly, and that our cucumbers are crunchy and non-bitter.  

For this season, we have two favorite varieties.  

  • 'Calypso': This is a smaller cucumber that's perfect for pickling or fresh eating. It's a hybrid that's ready to harvest just 52 days after planting. Interestingly, the plants are gynoecious, which means they produce only female flowers. As long as you have a pollinating partner variety planted nearby, each flower will produce a fruit and result in huge yields. So, the second cucumber variety we grow is not just there for harvesting but it's also there to help pollinate the 'Calypso' plants by producing both female and male flowers.  
  • 'Marketmore 76': Both an excellent pollination partner for 'Calypso' and a downright delicious and productive cuke itself, 'Marketmore 76' is the gold-standard of cucumbers on our farm and many others. The cucumbers reach 8-9 inches in length and have dark, beautiful skin. Though it's later to produce than some other varieties, 'Marketmore 76' is a slicer with a taste and texture that can't be beat.  

Cucumber vines growing in field.

Planting cucumbers on the farm  

We start planting cucumbers soon after the danger of frost has passed. Here in Pennsylvania, that's typically in late May. The cucumber field is tilled and prepared with a layer of organic compost. While some other cucumber farming operations mulch their planting beds with black plastic, we prefer to mulch our cucumbers with a layer of straw. It keeps the developing fruits up off the soil, reduces weed competition, and helps retain soil moisture.  

Cucumber farming field ready for planting

At the proper planting time, the seeds are sown directly into the soil one-inch-deep and about a foot apart. Close spacing like this means the vines grow thick and lush, further helping to limit weed growth and serve as a living mulch. Cucumbers can be grown vertically, too, and it's something we've experimented with in the past by growing the vines up a trellis.  

If you grow cucumbers and you're concerned about the vines growing too large, there are several bush-type cucumber varieties whose vines grow just two to three feet long, but the plants produce plenty of full-sized cucumbers. These compact cucumbers are a good bet for smaller cucumber farming operations or home gardens.  

Cucumber seeds ready for planting

Caring for our cucumber plants  

Once the seedlings are up and growing, it's our job to make sure they're happy and healthy. Our organic soil management system works wonders to boost the disease- and pest-resistance of all our crops, but we also keep a sharp eye out for pests.  

Cucumber beetles, squash bugs, aphids, and other insects are kept off the young plants early in the season by covering the vines with a layer of floating row cover. This translucent fabric cover forms a protective barrier over the cucumber plants and limits pest damage and the transmission of bacterial wilt. However, since the cucumber varieties we grow need to be pollinated in order to set fruit, the row cover is removed as soon as the plants come into flower. This gives the bees ample access to the blooms and improves pollination rates which, in turn, ensures we have uniform cucumbers.

Young cucumber plants on a farm.

Cucumber farming also involves making regular harvests. Cucumbers are one of those crops that need to be picked on a near-daily basis. The more you harvest, the more fruits the plant develops. We head to the field with a sharp knife or pruners and snip the mature cucumbers from the vines rather than pulling them. Pulling the cucumbers off the vine often tears the skin which can lead to rot.  

Post-harvest care  

And last but not least, the way we handle our cucumbers after they're picked is just one more important piece to the puzzle of successful cucumber farming. We treat our cucumbers with care by stacking them carefully in harvest boxes so we don't damage the skin. Our organic cucumbers are not coated in wax to keep them from drying out (like the ones in the grocery store are), so it's essential that we get them into our customers' hands as quickly as possible.  

If you live in the Pittsburgh region and you'd like to enjoy our cucumbers, sign up for our seasonal Farm Share Program and receive a weekly delivery of our farm's fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Or, visit us on Saturday mornings throughout the growing season at the Sewickley Farmer's Market in Sewickley, PA.  

For more information about our favorite crops, check out the following articles:

 

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

Cucumber farming tips from the pros

Posted 8/9/2018 10:56am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Heirloom tomatoes come in just about every color of the rainbow, and the diversity of flavors and textures they bring to the table is unparalleled. Here at Cherry Valley Organics, we grow and sell many different heirloom tomato varieties, each with it's own unique look and taste.  

Mixed heirloom tomato varieties

Today, we thought it would be fun to take you on a virtual stroll through our tomato fields and tell you a bit about how we grow our heirloom tomato varieties. We'd also like to share all the juicy details about some of our favorite varieties by describing their best features and hopefully enticing you to try something new when you stop by our market stand at the Sewickley Farmer's Market. Our Farm Share/CSA customers here in Pittsburgh will also find our heirloom tomato varieties on their list of weekly delivery choices from mid-summer well into the autumn.  

How we select the heirloom tomatoes we grow  

Here at the farm, we first focus our tomato-growing efforts on selecting the best varieties for our growing conditions. Since our humid summers often mean increased pressure from fungal diseases, we try to choose heirloom tomato varieties that are more resistant to diseases. But, we put our prime focus on selecting for fantastic flavor.  

Unlike grocery store tomatoes which are chosen for their ability to be shipped long distances, to be artificially ripened, and to be of a consistent size, the heirloom tomatoes we grow are chosen because they taste phenomenal. Since all of our customers are located within 50 miles of our farm, there's no need to grow tomatoes that ship well, which means we can really hone in on providing our customers with a diversity of great-tasting tomatoes.  

heirloom tomato harvest

How we grow our heirloom tomatoes  

All of our heirloom tomato varieties are grown right here in our fields, from seed until harvest. Tim and the crew start sowing our early tomato seeds in late winter. These first sowings end up in our high tunnel, where they're protected from the elements. The high tunnel plantings provide our first tomato harvests of the season, often weeks before our field tomatoes even come into flower.  

They continue to sow more seeds every few weeks throughout the remainder of the late winter and early spring, providing us with a succession of young seedlings that can then be transplanted out into the fields when they're about 6 to 8 weeks old.  

sowing tomato seeds

We take great care to keep our tomato plants up off the soil and away from soil-borne fungal diseases. We use a unique trellising system for our tomatoes growing in the high tunnel, and out in the fields, we rely on heavy-duty wire tomato cages to keep the plants upright. These wire cages are designed to make harvesting easy, with nice, large openings we can easily stick our arms through to pull out even the biggest beefsteak tomato.  

Throughout the season, the plants are watched carefully for signs of diseases and pests, though we seldom have to treat for either. Since our plants are grown under the USDA Certified Organic standards and are healthy and naturally resistant to pathogens and pests, our heirloom tomato varieties are largely trouble-free.  

Our favorite heirloom tomato varieties  

Though each season we try to grow a different selection of heirloom tomatoes, we certainly have a list of favorites. Tim selects for a diversity of colors and fruit-sizes to please all of our customers, which means you'll find tomatoes in some pretty cool hues when you visit our market stand. Here are some of our top picks:  

Carbon: A large, flavorful tomato that's won numerous awards. It's dark pink to purple in color with a complex flavor that can't be beat!  

Carbon tomato

Taxi: This heirloom tomato variety produces tennis ball-sized tomatoes with thin, yellow skin. The fruits are consistently sized and early to mature.  

Taxi tomato

Green Zebra: The zesty-tart flavor of this tomato is amazing. And, the green striped skin makes it extra unique. It's a real stand-out in mixed heirloom tomato salads.  

Green Zebra tomato

Pruden's Purple: Each fruit of this heirloom weighs at least one pound! The dark pink skin wraps a bright red interior and the flavor is 100% classic tomato.  

Prudens Purple tomato

Jaune Flamme: With apricot-orange skin and a perfect orb shape, this heirloom tomato is the perfect blend of sweet and tart. No mealiness here!  

Jaune Flamme tomato

Cosmonaut Volkov: This tomato is adored for its incredible, rich flavor. With a traditional red color and consistent fruit size, Cosmonaut Volkov is a farm favorite.  

Cosmonaut Volkov tomato

Moskavich: An early-season heirloom with a deep red color, this selection produces fist-sized fruits with a great flavor.  

Moskavich tomato

As you can see, we select and grow our heirloom tomato varieties with great care. We hope you'll give some of these stellar selections a try. They won't disappoint!  

Oh, and in the spring, we also sell transplants of all the heirloom varieties we grow. That means you, too, can try growing an heirloom tomato plant in your home garden.  

To enjoy our fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes, stop by the Sewickley Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9:00-1:00 throughout the growing season, or sign up for our Pittsburgh Farm Share program for a weekly delivery of all of our certified organic fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and herbs.  

For more from the farm, check out the following blog posts:  

From, 

The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

The best heirloom tomato varieties for farm and garden

Posted 7/19/2018 10:51am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Despite what you may think, spring isn't the only planting season here at the farm, nor should it be in your own home garden. Farmers and gardeners who want to have freshly picked produce rolling in for months on end need to employ a succession planting plan. Our own succession planting plan ensures a continual harvest throughout the entire growing season.  

fall succession carrot crop

What is succession planting?  

Succession planting means that two or more crops are grown in succession in the same space. After one crop is harvested, another is planted in its place. Succession planting means no ground is fallow during the growing season and every inch of space is productive. A successful succession planting plan can be as basic or as intricate as you need it to be, and here at the farm, Tim is constantly working to maximize our yields via a delicate balance of harvesting and planting based on which crops prefer to grow during which time of the year.  

How a succession planting plan works  

The basic building block of a good succession planting plan is the seasonality of different crops. Some vegetables, like lettuce, spinach, peas, and radish, prefer the cooler weather of spring and fall. While others, such as tomatoes, basil, peppers, and squash, grow best in the heat of summer. A succession planting plan takes those growing preferences and weaves them together to form a matrix of productive plants from early spring through early winter.

Succession planting definition and plan 

Here at the farm, cool-weather crops are planted in the very early spring, and after they're harvested, a heat-loving selection is planted in their place. For example, when the peas are pulled in late June or early July, they're replaced with a planting of cucumbers. Or, after our spring greens are cut and sold at market, the empty beds are then planted with zucchini or green beans.  

We're constantly settling new plants into our growing beds all season long. Not only does this practice maximize our production, it also limits our losses if a disease or pest strikes an earlier planting. Succession planting can be an insurance plan of sorts against crop losses.  

The importance of diversity in succession planting  

When combining crops in a succession planting plan, the possibilities are nearly endless. However, it's important to mix up plant families when succession planting. If you harvest a root crop and then plant another root crop in the same space, soil nutrient depletion may be the result. Members of the same plant family can also share similar disease and pest susceptibilities, so when devising a succession plan, it's important to diversify each generation of crops you plant. For example, follow a spring root crop with a summer vine crop or a fruiting plant, such as a tomato or pepper, rather than planting more roots like beets or turnips in that same space. Diversity is a big part of a successful succession planting plan.  

Summer succession planting basics

Fall succession planting  

Following a spring cool-season crop with a heat-loving one isn't the only way to succession plant. Here at the farm, we also do a lot of succession planting that involves fall crops. This means that just because July 4th has come and gone, doesn't mean the planting season is over. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because we want to have fresh kale, collards, broccoli, cabbage, and other cool-season veggies available to our customers in the autumn and early winter, we start a new round of planting in mid to late July. This later planting yields an incredible autumn harvest because once the cooler temperatures of fall arrive, these late plantings grow like crazy. For some of these cool-season crops we have a better harvest when planting late in the season than we do when planting in early spring.  

Depending on how long it takes each crop to mature, a succession planting plan can even include a triple planting. If you choose three fast-maturing crops, it's possible to grow three veggies in the same space. Radish, for example, mature in just 30 days, so if quick-growing baby beets or carrots are planted soon after the radish are harvested, there will be enough time to plant a fall lettuce or kale crop, too. Succession planting opens up so many possibilities and can really increase your yield.  

Fall plantings of lettuce for succession

Caring for the soil when succession planting  

When succession planting in such an intense way, it's extremely important to consider the health of the soil as well. When intensely farmed in this way, soils can become depleted of nutrients and it's important to replenish what's used by plants as the season progresses. Organic farms like ours care for the soil without using synthetic chemical fertilizers, and we take great measures to ensure our soils remain healthy and nutrient-dense. To do this, we add compost to the ground in between each and every succession crop. Home gardeners should do the same. Not only does an addition of several inches of compost help replenish nutrients, it also introduces beneficial soil micro-organisms that help our plants acquire those nutrients and fight off pests and diseases. Healthy soil means healthy plants and a productive farm or garden.  

Soil care during succession planting

We hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into how we use a succession planting plan to supply our customers and ourselves with a broad diversity of fresh, organic produce all season long.  

For more information on some of our favorite farm crops, please check out these articles:

 

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Family

Succession Planting Plan for Gardeners and Farmers

Posted 7/5/2018 8:50am by Cherry Valley Organics.

Cherry tomatoes are among our customers' favorites, which is a good thing because they're also one of our favorite crops to grow! With their prolific production and sweet flavor, there's so much to love about cherry tomatoes. We thought you might enjoy a glimpse into how we grow these tasty tomatoes, why we hand-pick them at the peak of their flavor, and how we make sure they're still farm-fresh by the time they make it to your kitchen counter.  

Cherry tomato growing and harvesting tips

The varieties of cherry tomatoes we grow  

Making sure we have the best cherry tomatoes on the block starts by carefully selecting the varieties we grow. Our Crop Manager of Produce, Fruit, and Mushrooms, Tim Gebhart, sifts through our seed sources each winter to select which varieties make the grade here at Cherry Valley Organics. Though we do grow a handful of different selections each season, we also have some standbys that make it into our fields every season.  

Mixed cherry tomato varieties

Tim chooses the cherry tomatoes we grow based on their flavor, production, fruit color and size, and the disease resistance of the plants. Some of our prime picks this season include:

  • 'Black': This cherry tomato has a unique dark skin and a prolific production. It's an heirloom variety that has an incredibly complex flavor. It's juicy and sweet, with a hint of smokiness. The 1-inch fruits are great for fresh eating and cooking.
  • 'Bing': Farmer Tim's favorite variety for its intense sweetness, 'Bing' is a classic red cherry tomato that's packed with a fruity-sweet flavor with a hint of acidity. The skin is thinner than some other varieties, so the fruits really "pop" when you bite into them.
  • 'Esterina': This canary yellow cherry tomato makes it into our fields for its sweet yet tangy flavor, its incredible production, and its disease resistance. Unlike some other yellow cherry varieties, the skin of 'Esterina' doesn't crack open. That means the fruits are reliably perfect and damage-free.
  • 'Sakura': One of the earliest producing cherries we grow, 'Sakura' is a reliable producer of bright red, yummy tomatoes. The plants are slightly more compact, too, making it easy to fit lots of these beauties in our high tunnel with ease. With a long production period, this cherry tomato produces flavorful and firm tomatoes that ship well but are still juicy and delicious.  

How we care for our cherry tomato plants  

In addition to carefully selecting each variety, we also plant and cultivate the plants in a specific way. Since we're a USDA Certified Organic farm, we do not use synthetic chemical pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides on any of our crops. Unlike many other conventional Pittsburgh farms who regularly rely on these products to grow their tomatoes, we get our plants off to a healthy start by amending the soil with compost before planting which helps them fend off diseases naturally. We then give each plant a small scoop of compost monthly once fruit production begins. Newly transplanted tomatoes are also watered in with a dilute solution of liquid fish. These natural fertilizers allow our cherry tomato plants to grow large and healthy, and produce a plethora of full-flavored fruits.  

Trellising cherry tomato plants

Our cherry tomato plants are also carefully staked to ensure the vines are fully supported and the fruits stay off the ground. The unique staking system we use also provides the plants with exceptional air circulation, which leads to a reduction in several nasty fungal diseases that tomatoes are particularly prone to.  

We're growing most of our cherries in the high tunnel where we hang two strings of twine from the roof per plant. Each plant is then pruned to have 2 leader vines. Each leader vine is twisted around the twine as it grows and all of the side suckers are pinched off. This keeps the vines perfectly upright and makes the fruits very easy to harvest. We also grow some of our cherry tomatoes in the field, where the plants are supported by jumbo-size tomato cages.  

Cherry tomato plants with string trellis

Harvesting cherry tomatoes with care  

In addition to growing our cherry tomatoes with care, we also harvest them by hand at the peak of their flavor. Unlike some other farms, who pick their tomatoes in a semi-green state and then force them to ripen by exposing them to ethylene gas, ours are always left on the plants to ripen naturally under the warm summer sun.  

While growing some of the plants in the high tunnel does encourage earlier production, we do not force-ripen our tomatoes in any way. They're left on the plants until they're bursting with sweetness; only then do we harvest them by hand, leaving those that aren't quite ripe enough on the vine to wait for the following harvest.  

Harvesting cherry tomatoes by hand

Packaging and delivery  

Our cherry tomatoes are sold in mixed pints. We blend all of the varieties we grow together so that our customers can enjoy the full flavor of each separate variety without having to purchase more tomatoes than they can eat. Selling them mixed also means a beautiful blend of colors and sizes, too.   We keep our cherry tomatoes plump and juicy (and unsquished!) by never stacking the pint boxes on top of each other. The individual boxes are packed in single layers in crates for the drive to the farmers market to ensure the tomatoes aren't damaged in transit. They're also kept cool, but never refrigerated, which can destroy the sweetness and flavor of tomatoes.  

Favorite cherry tomato recipes

Our favorite cherry tomato recipes  

While many cherry tomatoes are popped into a mouth and eaten without any preparation at all, we love using our sweet cherries in lots of different recipes. If you're looking for some new ways to enjoy our Cherry Valley Organics cherry tomatoes, here are some of our favorites:  

 

For more information about other crops we grow here at the farm, be sure to check out these posts: 

 

From, The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

How we grow and harvest our organic cherry tomatoes

Posted 2/8/2018 12:30pm by Cherry Valley Organics.

What is Swiss chard?

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) is a close relative of the garden beet. Chard and beets are so close, in fact, that they're actually the same species of plant that's been selected and bred for specific traits over many years. While beets have been bred for their plump, edible roots, Swiss chard has been bred for its crunchy, delicious leaves.  

Rich in antioxidants, vitamins K, C, and A, and an excellent source of dietary fiber, Swiss chard is a real garden -- and kitchen! -- champ. The thick, succulent texture of the leaves make them excellent additions to a diversity of dishes, including the recipes you'll find below. As an added bonus, Swiss chard varieties can have many different colored stems, including red, pink, orange, yellow, white, or even striped. The plants are truly beautiful!  

What is Swiss chard? It's a delicious and beautiful garden green.

How to grow Swiss chard

Swiss chard is a surprisingly easy crop to grow; even beginner gardeners will have success. Unlike lettuce and many other garden greens, Swiss chard is both heat and cold tolerant, making it easy to grow a prolific crop that produces from spring straight through autumn here on our Pennsylvania organic farm (its long growing season is also why Swiss chard is sometimes called 'perpetual spinach'). Seeds can be sown directly into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in early spring. As long as the seeds and plants receive ample moisture, it takes about 30 days for baby greens to be ready for harvest and 55-60 for the plants to reach full size.

 Learn how to grow Swiss chard and use it in the kitchen.

When harvesting Swiss chard, it's best to cut off individual outer leaves and let the growing point remain intact. This allows for multiple harvests from the same plant. Just head out to the garden whenever you need some chard greens for a recipe, and trim off as many leaves as you need, using a sharp, clean knife and cutting each stem off at its base. Wash and pat the leaves dry before use.  

What does Swiss chard taste like?

Just because it shares a species name with beets, don't assume that Swiss chard has the same sweet, earthy flavor as beets. Cooked Swiss chard tastes much like a mixture between spinach and collard greens. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads and on sandwiches, where they impart a slightly sweet, lettuce-like flavor but with a far meatier texture.  

While the leaves of Swiss Chard are the part most cooks focus on, the thick, crunchy stems of Swiss chard are delicious, too. They take a bit longer to cook than the leaves do, so remove the midrib and stem from the leaves and allow them to cook a few minutes longer than the leaves. Another great way to use the stems is to sauté them in a bit of olive oil or steam them briefly until they're slightly soft but not limp, then serve them as part of a crudités platter with hummus or ranch dressing.  

How to freeze Swiss chard and cook with it.

How to freeze Swiss chard

In addition to enjoying Swiss chard in the recipes we've listed below, you can also easily freeze this yummy green for later use. To freeze Swiss chard, wash the leaves, then cut off the midribs and stems, setting them aside to prepare separately. Roughly chop the leaves into pieces, then put them into a large pot of boiling water for two minutes only. When two minutes pass, scoop the chard leaves out of the boiling water and put them immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Let the chard sit in the ice water until it's fully cooled, about three minutes. Remove it from the ice water and put the blanched greens into a salad spinner to remove excess water. Pack the greens into zipper-top freezer bags, label the bags, and put them into the freezer. Now you'll have plenty of Swiss chard on hand for use whenever you need it.  

Freeze the stems in a similar fashion, but allow them to remain in the boiling water for an additional minute.  

Swiss chard recipes

While you can use Swiss chard in just about any recipe that calls for spinach, including vegetable lasagnas, quiches, stir-fries, and sautés, here are a few of our favorite easy-to-make Swiss chard recipes.  

Creamed Swiss chard

Sautéed chard with onions

Chickpeas and chard

Mini frittatas with chard

Swiss chard and herb fritters  

Participants in our Pittsburgh Farm Share Program can expect to find our delicious Swiss chard in their weekly delivery boxes. Not part of our Farm Share program yet? Sign up here  

Click these links to discover: 

How to grow and eat broccoli leaves

What are ground cherries?

More about our herbal teas

From The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family

What is Swiss chard? How to grow, harvest, and cook this delicious green.