Expert in the Field - Q&A with Hank Bissell of Lewis Creek FarmMarch 30, 2016
35 years of growing in Starksboro, Vermont, qualifies Hank Bissell as a true expert in the field! We asked him some questions about planning for a new season. You can find Hank's beautiful produce at the Burlington Farmer's Market (he's the first stand off of Church Street on Bank), at the Starksboro farmstand, and he still has openings for 2016 CSA subscriptions- sign-up here!
Q: What process do you use to select seeds for a new growing season?
I have a lot of seed varieties that I depend on, and I've used them for years and they are great and I love them. Once in a while, something new comes along and it looks interesting and I give it a try. Sometimes the variety I've used for years is suddenly unavailable due to a crop failure, and I try something else, something new. As much as I love the tried and true varieties I've grown for years, being forced to try something new often turns out to be a real opportunity and I discover a new variety that is wonderful and better than what I was growing before. And sometimes I just can't wait for the old favorite to come back again.
Q: When and how long is planning for a new growing season?
Planning for the new season is ongoing. We are only now at the very end of the winter storage season, and I already have new ideas written down for next winter. It goes on like this all season long. I have a running list things to change, new things to try next year, and exciting new ideas.
Q: What seeds do you have started right now? What is your philosophy for seed starting?
A lot of the vegetables we have started so far are crops that we will plant many times throughout the season. We have seeded 2 plantings of Lettuce so far, but we'll plant 22 plantings total. Zucchini we make 4 plantings, Peppers just 2 plantings. Each crop is different.
Q: Are you growing anything new/exciting this season?
We started growing Radicchio last year to mix into our Mesclun mix. It has a nice crisp texture and brilliant red color. Last year I used it all in the Mesclun mix, but I think I'll make some available just as heads this year because it's so beautiful and delicious in a salad.
Q: Have you adjusted your growing of a particular product for market demand in the last year or so - anything been surprisingly popular?
Demand for each vegetable varies almost constantly. Years ago we sold a tremendous amount of Green Kale through the distributors. It was going largely to food service customers as bedding for salad bars. We were selling hundreds of cases a week and then suddenly, in the course of about 6 months, the market dried up seemingly overnight. The only thing I could figure was that an article must have come out in some food service trade magazine suggesting that some other method of display was better and everyone stopped using Kale. We went from over 200 case a week to 25 case a week in under a year. Sic transit gloria!