Steve described the season as a roller coaster the other morning; we are just reaching the top of the first hill, click by click we are almost there. Then the rest of the season coasts along on the work we have been doing since early March. All of the fields have been fertilized and made into sections of beds, the planting is done, the direct seeding of greens into the field is almost done, the weed growth is slowing down, the days are starting to get shorter (it is harder to get up at 5:00 am when it is so dark!), the tomato trellising is finished, and so many more tasks we don’t have room to list. Now harvesting is our main job; that, and cleaning up and seeding cover crops for next season.
Shufelt Field, the field we have written about quite a few times, is where we planted the early spring broccoli and kale, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, onions, winter squash, and other cucurbits. It is a good illustration of the roller coaster. We spent weeks preparing the field, laying mulch, planting, weeding, mulching with hay and raking the hay in between the beds of veggies, weeding again, setting up the irrigation lines and filters, in addition to laying a 3500 ft underground irrigation line so we could irrigate twice a week. In mid-July the last of the beds were planted. Last week the final line of twine weaved the tops of the tomato plants onto the trellis stakes. The onions are harvested (we don’t want to talk about that, last year we had 25,000 lbs of onions for storage, this year only 10,000 lbs due to a disease called botrytis). The crew harvested the sweet dumpling and delicata winter squash on Friday. In a week or two the butternut squash will be ready.
The clean-up has started in Shufelt Field. One day a section is full of onions or squash and the next bare soil is all that is left. Overnight the look of the field changes. After we harvest a crop we go through with a machine on the back of the tractor to lift the biodegradable mulch. We irrigate these crops by individual plastic hoses in each bed called “drip tape”. The drip tape has tiny holes that slowly drip out water just at the base of the plants over an eight to 12 hour period when we run the irrigation system. After the mulch is out of the way we pull the drip tape out of the soil and then pick it up with a machine that reels it up so we can dispose of it. Unfortunately re-using drip tape doesn’t work very well, it tends to develop large holes or rip apart after one season of use. Then we go through with a single bed disc to work in the hay/straw mulch and whatever is left from the vegetable plants. After a week or so we disc again with a large disc or harrow to clean up any weeds that may have germinated and to level the field. Then we harrow again to prepare for a cover crop seeding. Jean-Paul seeded down the empty sections in oats on Saturday in preparation for next season’s early crops. This week Steve will fertilize two sections for the garlic we will plant in October for next year. The field went from 17 sections of vegetables to five in just a few weeks. The tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos are still going strong.
A few more weeks of summer veggies and then we turn to the fall brassicas and root crops to fill out your shares. There are two more weeks of corn and three or four more of beans if the weather cooperates. The fall brassicas are quite happy out in the fields as you could see from the huge broccoli heads we delivered this week. Jean-Paul has been regularly spraying to protect the brassicas from the european cabbage worms and alternaria (a disease). We planted watermelon radishes, a large radish that is green on the outside but when you slice it in half the middle is bright pink, and a large storage kohlrabi for some variety this fall and winter. Unfortunately the parsnips didn’t germinate in June so no parsnips this season. The crew worked really hard to rescue the sweet potatoes from the weeds and also the celeriac (yes, we did save it after all even though Jean-Paul had given up on it).
Cover crops are filling up the empty sections in preparation for winter and next season. Jean-Paul and I are creating a picture in our heads of what the corn field will look like next year (fall brassicas), bean field (winter squash and sweet potatoes), Shufelt Field (early greens), Lindenwald (clover in preparation for “plasti-culture” in 2015), and the field where we grew garlic this year (“plasti-culture” in 2014). The cover crops we plant now determine what we can grow there the following season or even two seasons. We are growing oats and peas, sorghum-sudan grass and crotalaria, red clover, and rye and vetch. The oats and peas protect the soil over the winter for the early summer crops, the sorghum-sudan and crotalaria rid the soil of certain diseases, fix some nitrogen, and add organic matter to the soil. They both winterkill and leave a protective mulch that is easily worked under in the spring so we can plant potatoes at the end of April. Red clover fixes nitrogen and adds organic matter to the soil and is a longer-term cover crop. Rye and vetch fix nitrogen, protect the soil over the winter, and next year will provide straw for mulching the garlic and between the tomatoes, peppers, etc. and provide bedding for the animals in the winter.
There are many hours/days of harvesting root crops and cleaning up in our near future but we feel like we have made it up the hill and are now riding out the rest of the season. The frenzy of the early season is over and while we may have to rush to harvest potatoes before a rain storm and our to do list is still quite long, the work schedule feels less stressful most days. We are crossing our fingers that the hurricane season is kind to the East Coast this September so that our abundant season can continue through the fall and for those of you who ordered a winter share. If the weather cooperates we will keep filling up the delivery truck every week.