The new season starts in earnest this week. This is a moment to savor — that last deep breath before the plunge into the reliable cycle of the farming year. This week I start leeks, next week onions, kale the week after that, and on down the line. The bulk of my greenhouse work is finished by June, but as early as late April my benches are full of new green plants eager to be transplanted into the field.
But before that can happen, I need to make the fields ready. The last couple of years, I relied on a neighbor to run his disk harrow through the field. This year, I get to use my new tractor for that job.
Once the primary tillage is completed, I begin preparing beds. Last year I spent a lot of time breaking though compacted soil with my broadfork, then further refining the soil with my walk-behind tiller and shaping beds by hand with a rake. This process worked, but it took a great deal of time. This year, again, I will use the tractor, which should move things along considerably.
Bigger operations that specialize in one or two crops usually use mechanical transplanters, but since this farm is small and diverse, I do all the transplanting by hand. Do it enough, and you become pretty efficient at it. Once the plants are in the ground, I like to water them in with a little diluted fish and kelp emulsion, an organic fertilizer that helps alleviate transplant shock and stimulates the soil’s biological life.
Since I don’t spray any herbicides, I control weeds primarily through cultivation and manual weeding. In an ideal world, if you stay on top of your cultivation, you can avoid the time-intensive chore of weeding. Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world, so sometimes everyone needs to pitch in and pull some weeds.
In the parts of the field I don’t use for vegetables, I sow cover crops. Cover crops do so many things — suppress weeds, build soil organic matter and fertility, feed and protect pollinators and other beneficial insects — I’d be a fool not to make use of them. Plus there are few things as lovely as a patch of vetch and clover full of buzzing bees on a summer’s day.
Harvesting is all done by hand, too, and once we get into July, this job takes most of my time. By mid-August, it’s all I do, rain or shine. I’m not complaining, because this is the whole reason I’m here — to provide fresh, nutrient-dense food to the many households who are this farm’s members.
Soon enough, though, comes the year’s first frost, which I start watching for toward the end of September. While this means the end of the heat-loving summer crops, the cold-tolerant fall crops come into their own. At this point, I start anticipating winter and begin the long process of putting the farm to bed.
Eventually, by the end of October, even the hardiest vegetables are winding down. All that remains to be done is sowing the now-bare fields in a cover crop to protect the soil over the winter, planting and mulching the next year’s garlic, and cleaning and storing all the tools, supplies, and equipment for the winter so that I am not greeted by total chaos the following spring.
With the season behind me, there is a moment for rest and, most importantly, for thanksgiving, and then I again turn my mind toward spring.