There’s no guarantee it won’t snow again, but don’t let that stop you from making plans for summer. If you love gardening and can’t wait to get your hands in the dirt, you know the time is right to strategize and plant seeds. If weeding and worms aren’t your thing, sign up for a CSA summer share. Or, if you want to supplement your simple garden, do both! Here’s how to get started with both tasks right now:
Sign up for a CSA Farm Share
CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, lets people support local farmers by purchasing season-long shares of fresh produce. Subscribers receive weekly distributions during the summer season which lasts around 20-25 weeks. Most farms offer multiple pickup locations in different Pittsburgh neighborhoods or at the farm itself.
It’s a fantastic way to enjoy locally grown arugula, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, melons and so much more as they come into season, as well as try something you’ve never had before and build a meal around it. Additionally, many CSAs offer add-ons like farm-direct meat, eggs, honey and cheese. Prices can range anywhere from $200-800 for the season depending on the size of the share. Small shares are usually enough for two adults while large shares can feed an entire family. Some CSAs offer a bi-weekly plan for people who want to spread out the distribution of the summer bounty.
How to find the CSAs available in your area? Here are two options: explore the CSA guides available on both localharvest.org and csaday.info. Simply enter your zip code for the nearest options near you.
To give you a head start, here are just four of the many local farms offering CSA sign-ups for the 2017 summer season right now. (Be sure to check the above CSA websites above for a more complete listing of farms and a variety of farm share plans):
Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance (Lawrenceville): A farmer-owned cooperative with over 30 members. Their mission is to provide high-quality, farm-fresh products directly to customers through a CSA while providing a sustainable rate of return to the farmer. Pickups available in more than 40 locations around Pittsburgh. Plans range from $120-830.
Blackberry Meadows Farm CSA (Natrona, PA): Pickups available at the farm and at Phipps Conservatory. Plans range from $350-850.
Dillner Family Farm CSA (Gibsonia, PA): Pickups available in more than 30 Pittsburgh locations. Plans range from $300-500.
Clarion River Organics CSA (Sligo, PA): Pickups available in multiple Pittsburgh locations. Plans range from $500-$725.
Start planning a garden
If you want to get a jump on gardening, you can start right now. There’s a wealth of detailed local gardening information, including timetables for starting seeds indoors, available on the Grow Pittsburgh website. It’s a great resource for growing things in the Pittsburgh area (USDA Hardiness Zone 6B — you’ll need to know that). All the timetables referenced and are built around the last expected frost date in our area which is May 26.
Early spring crops like peas, lettuce, radishes, scallions and turnips can be direct seeded (sown into the ground or pots) during this last week of March. By the time production of these early crops dwindle, it will be time to plant summer options like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
Many plants can be started from seeds indoors with a grow light or window light source. Jiffy makes peat pellet greenhouse kits (available at Home Depot and Lowe’s) that can help with the process. Another option is waiting for seedlings to become available in local nurseries. The timetables available at growpittsburgh.org can help you determine safe transplanting times for seedlings relative to the “last frost” date.
Grow Pittsburgh offers vegetable, herb and flower seedlings at The Frick Pittsburgh Greenhouse for sale to the public. This year’s sale runs from Saturday, April 22 through Sunday, June 18. Hours of the sale are the same days and times that The Frick is open (Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.). Because supplies are limited, it’s a good idea to bring your own bags, trays and boxes to transport seedlings. Seedlings are sold for $3.75 each.
Some farms, including Blackberry Meadows Farm, offer “garden shares” with CSA subscriptions in which seedlings are distributed at the same time that the farm plants them. This is one way to take the guesswork out of planting everything from seed.
If you are interested in flower bulbs, Phipps has its annual used bulb sale on three Saturdays in April (4/1, 4/15 & 4/29) from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Many bulbs from the Spring Flower Show including hyacinths, daffodils and lilies will be available to the public. While some bags are provided, you are encouraged to bring your own. Bulbs are sold in $5 bunches and are ready to plant.
If you have concerns about potential lead in your soil, you can read about a joint effort by DECO Resources and Grow Pittsburgh to provide education to the public here.