In your box:
In last week’s newsletter I wrote about some of the effects of climate change that we’ve seen on the farm over the past few years. We haven’t had any dramatic temperature increases during the farm season, but we have had a steady uptick in heavy rainfall events, overall rainfall, and humidity. This has resulted in increased weed pressure, fewer days suitable for field work, increased pest and disease pressure, crop losses (specifically root crops rotting in the soil) and delayed planting.
This is obviously nothing compared to deforestation of the Amazon or rising sea levels, but this is what I’m experiencing here. I wanted to write a little about climate resiliency—how I handle these changes and modify the way I farm in order to stay ahead of climate uncertainty.
- New varieties. We never have and never will use any genetically modified (GMO) seeds on our farm. But traditional plant breeding does offer useful tools for coping with a wetter and warmer world. We used to grow Lacinato or “dino” kale, but this variety was too vulnerable to pest attack. We no longer grow that variety but have switched to other varieties that don’t entice nearly as many bugs. Common Basil has become nearly ungrowable due to downy mildew blackening its leaves, but new organic hybrid varieties have largely overcome this disease. Ordinary basil would have died off weeks ago in this wet year, but the new seed we’re trying this year continues to thrive without significant disease loss.
- Perennial agriculture. The best way to get around soggy springs is to not have to plant in the first place. In the past we have relied almost exclusively on annual crops—vegetables that are planted in the spring and complete their life cycle in one year before dying off in the winter. This results in a lot of work in the spring to prepare fields and plant seeds, and delayed planting and harvest if the fields are too wet to work in. The alternative is reliance on perennial crops that are planted once and produce for years or even decades. Over the past five years I’ve planted significant orchards of apples, apricots, aronia berries, beach plums, blueberries, cherries, cornellian cherries, currants, gooseberries, grapes, highbush cranberries, honeyberries, mulberries, peaches, pears, plums, and seaberries. Some of these have started bearing and I hope to offer more and more of these fruits over the next few years. My hope is that even when we experience significant delays in planting our annual garden, I’ll still have these fruits available in our CSA.
- Cover crops. As soon as a bed of our garden is finished for the year, I add compost and plant seeds of mixed grains and clovers to protect the soil over the winter. This helps to retain nutrients, shield the soil from erosion, and soak up moisture the following spring before it gets worked into the soil. This has been almost impossible this fall with all of the rain we’ve had, but I’m still seeding cover crops whenever I can.
- Clover pathways. This year I’m experimenting with seeding a micro-clover in the pathways between our plant beds where the tractor wheels run. These clovers will help fix nitrogen for our garden plants without competing with them, stablize the beds from erosion, and soak up moisture in heavy rainfall events so I can get back in the fields sooner.
It’s not at all my opinion that we should—or even can–keep changing the way we handle climate change without attacking the root causes of the problem. Next week I’ll write about our 10-year plan for taking our farm to a sustainable place where we are carbon-negative. It’s admittedly not going to make a significant change in the global problem, but we’re excited to stop contributing to the problem and do our part to stand against climate change.
Don’t forget—our annual fall harvest party is this Sunday! We’d love to have you out to the farm on Sunday, September 29th for an open house starting at 3:30. We’ll have farm tours, yard games, and a great evening with our community. Our cider press is now fully functional and we’ll be pressing cider with our apples. We’ll have a potluck starting at 5:30, so bring a dish to pass and table settings. Our address is: 17250 County Road 122 / New Germany 55367. Please e-mail me if you need help with directions or if you have any questions. Hope to see you then! There is rain in the forecast, so I will be in touch on Saturday evening to confirm the event or postpone it a week depending on the weather.
Our season will continue past the party, of course. My plan now is to delivery weekly through MEA break. That would finish up Tuesday deliveries on October 15th and Thursdays on the 17th. We hope you enjoy the rest of the season!
Expected next week: Potatoes, kohlrabi, head lettuce, salad mix, onion, sweet pepper, aronia berries, garlic, spinach and basil.