In your box:
–Garlic, “Purple Glazer”
–Potatoes, “Yukon Gold”
–Red onion (also a storage onion to full shares)
Even though the temperatures still make it feel like summer, it’s definitely beginning to look like fall in the gardens. Every time I harvest a bed of lettuce, dig up a row of potatoes, or finish off any other crop for the season, it’s time to prepare the planting bed for the winter. For our farm, this entails replacing what has been taken from the field and improving the soil to where it is even better than it was before the planting season.
All harvested crops take some nutrients out of the soil, so unless I replace the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other minerals I would eventually destroy my field and leave it unsuitable for further use. Since we follow organic practices, we cannot rely on synthetic fertilizers to prop up this system. Instead, we keep our field ready for future seasons with a mixture of poultry manure and compost. The manure would start to decompose and leach into the ground water if I applied it in the fall, so that waits until spring right before I begin planting. Even then, this fertilizer is “water insoluble”–it doesn’t rapidly wash away into the groundwater and rivers with rain events like the chemical fertilizers used in conventional agriculture. But our best source of nutrients comes from compost. Our finished compost is full of nutrition that feeds next year’s plants while also trapping carbon in the soil, building up our organic matter, helping to drain excess rain but also holding onto moisture in dry periods.
So this time of year I spend a few hours a week pushing a wheelbarrow full of compost from my homemade pile out to the field. I spread this finished compost in the field, work it in with a tractor, and then seed a cover crop to put the bed to rest for the winter. I’ve experimented with dozens of different varieties of cover crops over the past few years, and my best results have been with a mixture. This year my mix includes oats, radishes, sunflowers, buckwheat, field peas, and clover. These are all planted too late to produce anything edible—their whole purpose is to grow quickly so that their roots and biomass will cover the soil and hold my good dirt in place over the winter. The cover crops die off at either a frost or after a few nights below freezing, and then slowly break down all winter long. By the spring they have decomposed to even more compost grown right in the field.
The effects of cover crops are most discernible in the winter. Our neighbors are conventional farmers and don’t plant any cover crops, even as this has caught on among non-organic growers and has even been shown to save money in the long run despite seed costs. With nothing to hold their soil in place, the harsh winter winds push a layer of their topsoil south from their fields right on to the snow and ice on our field. They are giving me the best, most nutritious soil they have, soil that was formed over centuries by glaciers, all because they don’t have their soil covered. I can usually get nearly all of our gardens planted to cover crop by October 1st, and our fields are surrounded by perennial grasses and windbreak trees that don’t give up any soil to wind erosion. We don’t lose any of our soil to the ditch, the road, or our neighbors during the winter. And the soil that is covered is healthier the next spring than it was a year ago. This is what sustainability is, and I hope that you can appreciate it for more than a buzzword and see that it is so necessary for our agricultural communities, our nutrition, and our earth.
Most of our CSA box this week should be familiar. Our cucumber and summer squash plants are finally looking like their end is near, but this summer-like heat has them still in reproduction mode. Enjoy them while they last!
Our potatoes this week are my personal favorite, “Yukon Gold.” Any green spots should be peeled off and composted. These are caused by exposure to the sun, even under a shallow soil covering. I’ve done my best to cull out any greened potatoes, but any slight blemishes can be peeled off and the remainder will be fine to eat.
Don’t forget–our annual Fall Festival will be on Sunday, October 1st from 3pm until 6:30pm. Hope to see you on the farm!
Expected next week: Parsley, Cucumbers, summer squash, pepper, tomatoes, celery, cabbage, beets, and kale.