Spring always feels like the most hectic time of year on a farm. For me, it usually begins with a feeling of excitement as the weather warms, the days lengthen, and the trees begin to bud. It doesn’t take long for all of that excitement to translate into exhaustion. There is always so much to do on a farm in the spring and lots of daylight with which to do them. Here’s what the farm crew has been up to since our last update at the end of April:
Setting Up Our Irrigation System: Last year when folks would ask about our irrigation system, I would jokingly respond that our irrigation system was based on prayer. We were blessed with regular rains for the most part last season and found ourselves dragging garden hoses and sprinklers from field to field in the heat of the summer when the rains came less frequently. This year, we have installed a drip irrigation system in our larger fields to irrigate our crops. This system is comprised of a series of pipes that connect to “drip tape” which runs alongside crops under our black plastic mulch. The drip tape has emitters every 12 inches that release water one drop at a time. This system helps us maximize the efficiency of our water use because water immediately soaks into the soil where it can be taken in by the roots of our crops, thus reducing the amount of water lost to evaporation compared to hand watering or overhead watering systems.
Preparing the Fields for Planting: Many things have to happen in a field before it is planted. This year, we added a variety of soil amendments to our fields before planting based on the results of our soil test from last year. We also had tons of rocks to remove from the fields, which make their way to the surface every winter and spring. (Special thanks to the children of the United Methodist Global Ministries group, who helped us haul rocks out of the Cornerstone garden so it would be ready for planting this month!) Finally, beds need to be prepared for planting in most fields. Matt can attest to the time and energy it takes to dig the trenches for potato planting, which need to be about 8 inches deep, and the intricacies of shaping a smooth, even bed for carrot planting.
Direct Seeding and Transplanting: We’ve been seeding in the greenhouse since the end of February and now is the time of year when our little greenhouse seedlings are transplanted into the fields. We’ve transplanted lettuce, spinach, kales, cabbage, chard, beets, and onions in the past 4-6 weeks with more on the way. We also “direct seed” certain crops, meaning they are planted directly into the fields rather than started in the greenhouse. In the past month, we have direct seeded carrots, potatoes, summer squash, winter squash, and beans.
Cover Cropping: An important practice in sustainable agriculture is letting fields go fallow for a season to restore the nutrients that crops take from the land. A “cover crop” is a crop that is planted to help build the soil and restore nutrients rather than for a harvest. We have cover cropped our fallow fields this spring with buckwheat, which will eventually be tilled back into the fields where it can decompose, adding essential organic matter to our soil.
Building a Hoop House: Last season we were fortunate to get a great deal on a metal frame for a hoop house from a local nursery that was going out of business. Last week we were able to complete the last phase of hoop house construction by attaching plastic to the frame. This hoop house will expand our food production in the winter, but it also provides extra summer growing space for crops like tomatoes and melons, which can be planted early this year and in seasons to come, now that there is a structure in place that can protect them from some of spring’s colder nights.
As you can see, the farm crew has been pretty busy (and there are probably a few things I’ve left off the list!). We’re looking forward to a productive growing season and are faithful that we’ll be blessed with bountiful harvests and the learning experience that comes with all the challenges we’ll meet in this growing season.
See you in the gardens,
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