The Sweeter Side of Farming: Grow Your Own Candy Bars
One of the things I like the most about farming is access to some amazing food. Even if I don’t grow a particular crop, my network of producer friends allows me to trade around and cover most of my food needs. The wrinkle is that producing food can be exhausting. I hear a lot of stories about growers who, at the completion of a CSA pick up or farmer's market day, go home to leftovers or noodles before they fall asleep.
Ask any vegetable farmer and they’ll probably agree; one of their secrets is that lots of organic farms run on three main ingredients: coffee, beer, and candy. I know mine does. Coffee isn’t really suited to New England production, but lots of growers make their own beer. That leaves the candy… We’ve been growing our own for years. It’s fun, really easy, and it saves us money as well.
Step 1: Start with the Best
It’s important to start with good stock seed. I always buy new seed every year, mainly because the temptation of our harvest overcomes me, and we have consumed all of our bounty. When cutting your seed pieces, I like to make sure there is a good distribution of fillings in each piece.
Step 2: Planting
I cut a trench about 6”deep and gently place the seed pieces about 8” apart in the row. It’s possible to control the size of the finished bars by changing your spacing; more room between the plants will give you a “king size” bar, tighter spacing will give you more of a “fun size". I have found that 8” gives a nice range for me and my farm's needs. I just barely cover the seed pieces so that they can feel the warmth of the sun and emerge from the soil quickly.
Step 3: Amending for Yield
In about 5 weeks, the plants should be lush green and about 18- 24” tall. At this point there are a few operations that are really important and will contribute to the success of the set. This crop is a heavy feeder, so I side-dress with a good amount of organic sugar and cocoa. My experience is that most soils are pretty deficient in these elements, and many agricultural soil testing services don’t even screen for them. I typically band a 350’ bed with about 100 lbs of a 2:1 mix of sugar to cocoa. I then use a set of hilling discs on a tool bar to get a good hill to cover the plants. When I am done I end up with about 5” of stems above the soil level. This hill covers the developing bars and keeps them out of the direct sun, keeping them cool. We’re all aware of what happens when chocolate is in the sun. Keeping the bars cooler also keeps them cleaner when it comes time to harvest.
Step 4: Harvest
The last step is the harvest. I cut the tops off the plants 2-3 weeks before I want to dig them. This sends a signal to the bars to set the chocolate, also known as tempering. It gives the chocolate a nice glaze, and makes cleaning post harvest much easier. It also lowers the incidence of bruising if one harvests mechanically, allowing the crop to store almost indefinitely.
I use an old mechanical candy digger that I bought in Hershey, PA. It does a great job of gently lifting the bars out of the soil and making them easy to find. It’s one of my favorite single purpose tools.
If you don’t have access to this kind of an implement, it also works well to dig them by hand.
Step 5: Post-Harvest Handling & Storage
Once the bars are harvested, we brush them lightly before we eat them to get any lingering soil off the surface, and then enjoy (or store them in a cool, dark place).
Every time I have one of these pieces of candy, I am reminded of the sweet times behind us and the sweeter times ahead. I hope the upcoming season brings you and your farm everything that you need.
Happy April Fool's from High Mowing Organic Seeds!