Although we find ourselves 7 or 8 weeks past our hoped for starting date for the 2009 season, we are pleased to be starting 6 weeks earlier this season than last, making for 35 weeks of veggie harvests this year. Providing our farm members with fresh and healthy food for 2/3 of this year is exciting, and another step closer to our final goals for the farm. And at the start of this year we can’t help but being excited with where we are now.
The soil on this poor old farmstead had seen years of abuse…nothing chemical, thankfully, but the topsoil from two fields had been scraped and sold to the old Riverbend dump and almost every other space had been cut for hay or overgrazed. Although the animals that were grazed here gave something back to the land as they grazed, never as much as was taken; and when a field is cut and the green matter is removed, all of the energy the land put into the growing of that grass is taken, something needs to go back and this was never intentionally done. The pastures our first two years here showed signs of this. They were filled with thistles and grew grass poorly. The vegetable field was heavy clay, and was also weedy with thistles and queen anne’s lace. For those of you who have been members since our first season, you well remember the troubles we had in such a growing space.
But things have improved each year as more and more organic matter has been added to the soil. When we started working the beds this year, we found the soil in most spots is great, loose and rich and beautiful! And the thistles, which thrive in subsoil and poor soil have been replaced by lush clovers in the pastures and a whole host of really beautiful herbacious weeds that we have yet to identify. These are great signs of soil improvement, which is really our overarching purpose on the farm anyways. The rewards of healthy animals grazing good pasture and healthy fruits and vegetables from healthy and alive fields does ultimately benefit all of us in the form of delicious flavor and nutrient dense food; still, we believe that human survival depends on healthy soil, on the smallest of living creatures like healthy micro-organisms in the soil and the buzzing bees in the clover. It is hard for us to imagine that the farmer whose home this was and who at one time owned a hundred of these acres of farmland around us left behind a homestead with soil in disrepair, nor a single bit of fruit or shade/wind trees anywhere. The latter is a bit trivial, but it seems it is a farmer’s duty to protect the land, to build it, to nourish it, because as with anything in life, the take, take, take mantra will never really yield any true return. So we are thrilled with these signs, and we anticipate a great year of growing!
We are also working more space this year moving from growing on a little less than 1 acre up to 2 acres, which is exciting. Some of the new space is planted in fall/winter crops like leeks, Brussel sprouts, and potatoes,which we are determined to let grow to maturity, foregoing so many new potato harvests (our favorite!) in order to have them for winter when we will appreciate them even more. Most of it will be sown in cover crops for our mid-summer plantings for fall, winter, and next spring. This provides us with enough space to really have 45 weeks of veggie harvests, our ultimate goal, as well as allowing each field a resting period. We would have needed a lot of inputs to keep our smaller plot producing year round and healthy.
We are also hoping to experiment with growing on our lower field. Another source of frustration we have with the previous land owner is that this whole field is planted in reed canary grass. This grass was once encouraged as a good forage/hay grass for wetlands, but it is truly invasive and persistent and follows water, filling streams, choking out diversity. There is a small portion of our lower fields which the horse on our property favors grazing. We have begun to see a bit more diversity in this patch as well as less canary grass growth to this point. Aside from that, the soil under this grass is beautiful from river floods. So after we get soil test results, we hope to try a large pumpkin planting on this section, hoping that the sprawling vines of the pumpkins will help smother the grass. After Halloween, we will let this year’s pigs down to eat the rest of the pumpkin crop. Our hope is that they may be able to root out the canary grass rhizomes. This will most likely be a lengthy process, but one we are excited to try.
And although it is always hard for a parent to reconcile the fact that babies grow just as fast as weeds, as we tackle the heavy to do list of spring on the farm, our children, all another year older, are just that, another year older. The boys are so helpful, but our youngest, who is just a few weeks shy of 3, is (for the most part) now past just working on distinguising path versus growing space and we have another great garden helper! As she helped put transplants and potatoes in the ground this year, after each one she raised her arms to the air and exclaimed to the plant and the universe, “Grow, Plant (Potato), Grow!” It is hard to imagine that with these blessings we won’t have a great year!