Hail, No!

The last seven days were a rough week on the farm, starting off with five minutes of devastating hail last Sunday and ending with 4.5 inches of rain in 24 hours on Saturday. Let's all think sunny, warm thoughts for the weeks to come, New York farmers (and everyone else!) surely need it!

We are surviving, thank you to all who called and emailed. We will be short on veggies at market for the next 4 to 6 weeks, but should have plenty for our CSA boxes, though it might be a different mix than we planned for. Many crops are perking back up and we have a greenhouse full of new transplants germinating. When (if?) it stops raining, we are ready to jump into replanting. Our big concern on the farm right now is that all this rain combined with hail damage is a recipe for plant diseases--again, please think dry thoughts!

Frankly, we have a lot of thoughts about the weather this summer, but aren't in the a place yet to put them into words--I honestly can't describe what it felt like to see 20 years of hard work collapse under 5 minutes of precipitation. I still feel sick when I'm out in the fields. Let's all hope for a sunny and dry July through October for the state, your farmers need it!

...and now here's some photos of what serious hail can do in the fields (these are not happy photos, so you might want to skip them if vegetable massacres make you sad)...

The Offending Storm Cloud (it was supposed to miss us and continue going north, so I snapped this snazzy picture of it looking all pretty, not knowing it was about to hit winds off Lake Ontario and turn to jump us)

The Offending Storm Cloud (it was supposed to miss us and continue going north, so I snapped this snazzy picture of it looking all pretty, not knowing it was about to hit winds off Lake Ontario and turn to jump us)

The Offending Hail, it almost looked like snow on the ground :(

The Offending Hail, it almost looked like snow on the ground :(

Our flats that were hardening off to be planted last week took a hit--the storm came so fast there was no time to cover them (we barely got inside ourselves!). We lost 50 to 100% of these guys, but have already reseeded the lost flats.

Our flats that were hardening off to be planted last week took a hit--the storm came so fast there was no time to cover them (we barely got inside ourselves!). We lost 50 to 100% of these guys, but have already reseeded the lost flats.

Poor zucchini leaves, they took it hardest... however, they are vigorous plants and actually are producing a decent crop this week!

Poor zucchini leaves, they took it hardest... however, they are vigorous plants and actually are producing a decent crop this week!

The damage on the ready-to-harvest summer squash was most extreme, with some fruits just exploded open on the ground!

The damage on the ready-to-harvest summer squash was most extreme, with some fruits just exploded open on the ground!

Cucumbers not under row cover are toast. Fortunately, we have 2 more plantings under cover and 2 more in the greenhouse...

Cucumbers not under row cover are toast. Fortunately, we have 2 more plantings under cover and 2 more in the greenhouse...

We thought the U-Pick flower garden was done for, but it has won the resiliency contest--these snapdragons are back up, growing leaves, and re-loaded with blooms!

We thought the U-Pick flower garden was done for, but it has won the resiliency contest--these snapdragons are back up, growing leaves, and re-loaded with blooms!

All the peas on the vine got hit, and we lost about 50% of the plants. The survivors look to be producing okay but yields are obviously way down.

All the peas on the vine got hit, and we lost about 50% of the plants. The survivors look to be producing okay but yields are obviously way down.

Surviving crops included anything under row cover. The row covers gave their lives up to the hail (in some fields, the hail went through the covers, still damaging crops beneath) but did their job, largely protecting plants

Surviving crops included anything under row cover. The row covers gave their lives up to the hail (in some fields, the hail went through the covers, still damaging crops beneath) but did their job, largely protecting plants

Onions had a rough time of it. This is five days after the storm and they aren't really doing much healing. They are one of a few crops that we aren't sure will come back :(

Onions had a rough time of it. This is five days after the storm and they aren't really doing much healing. They are one of a few crops that we aren't sure will come back :(

Field tomatoes were pretty hard hit, with lots of snapped stems. However, they are vigorous (and were healthy before the storm), so we think they will come back, but just be a few weeks behind...

Field tomatoes were pretty hard hit, with lots of snapped stems. However, they are vigorous (and were healthy before the storm), so we think they will come back, but just be a few weeks behind...

Because Mother Nature likes to torment us with beauty after she destroys everything--this is the back side of the storm :/

Because Mother Nature likes to torment us with beauty after she destroys everything--this is the back side of the storm :/

Right now, we think that we can keep on trucking if we get several 5 day or longer breaks in the rain (okay, we'd even settle for 4 days!), so think dry thoughts!

Here's a few shots of the rain from Friday to Saturday afternoon (4.5 inches in total)... (The crazy thing here is that we are around 1480 feet in elevation, with only 100 feet or so above us, so you know when rivers start flowing over our road with so little above us in the watershed, it is going to get really crazy downstream--we hope you all and your houses stayed dry!

Our beleaguered farm road, which ducklings were using as white water runs. Fortunately, after 5 years here, we've figured out where to place our fields to minimize erosion in the vegetables. This storm was a test that showed we've successfully managed that, so that muddy runoff downstream didn't include any of our farm's soil (one bright ray of light this week)!

Our beleaguered farm road, which ducklings were using as white water runs. Fortunately, after 5 years here, we've figured out where to place our fields to minimize erosion in the vegetables. This storm was a test that showed we've successfully managed that, so that muddy runoff downstream didn't include any of our farm's soil (one bright ray of light this week)!

Chittenango Falls were creepy and terrifying--the water flow was so high that it reached over the level of the viewing platform, and actually created its own wind below the falls, blowing leaves off the trees!

Chittenango Falls were creepy and terrifying--the water flow was so high that it reached over the level of the viewing platform, and actually created its own wind below the falls, blowing leaves off the trees!

And yet more rainbows, because Mother Nature tries to make up for things after raining so much that she floods homes by redecorating the sky...

And yet more rainbows, because Mother Nature tries to make up for things after raining so much that she floods homes by redecorating the sky...

How a Tractor Works

In our little blog series on tools, we realized that we should start at the beginning and cover the main tool we turn to on the farm: the tractor!

The view from our desk (over last year's potato field)!

The view from our desk (over last year's potato field)!

The tractor is best viewed as a mobile power source. On its own, it doesn’t really *do* anything, but rather is a big engine that can run all sorts of tools that do actually do things. Tractors can usually attach to tools (or "implements") on their front and back ends, with a few adding some middle attachments.

On the front end, you’ll commonly see us driving around with either a bucket loader that we can fill with stuff or scoop up stuff to move things around, or with a set of forklifts which we also use to move stuff around or as a platform to mount other tools on. In fancier tractors, you could have an additional set of front hydraulics, which would let you run a wider range of equipment from the front end. (In retrospect, we regret not going with this option when we bought our tractor since it would let us run two implements at one time, saving a lot of tractor time and fuel!). We also started using the forks to mount our new spreader for the organic chicken compost we use, so that we can spread as we are tilling, which saves a tractor trip around the field and reduces compaction.

Using the forks on the front to move things around!

Some tractors, like the old-school tractor that mostly hangs out in our yard, can mount equipment in the middle, like garden tractors have mid-mount mowers. This is a nice option for using tractors to cultivate crops because it gives you a really good view of what you are doing.

The back end of the tractor is really the business end. Different implements hook up to either the drawbar hitch of the tractor (a hitch that sticks out basically like one on a truck) or to the “three-point hitch” (or 3pt) of the tractor. The drawbar hitch hooks up to things that we simply drag around the fields, like the chicken house or the disk harrow. The three-point hitch has three connection points, which allows the tractor to raise and lower the attached implement. Most of the equipment we have attaches this way, which is best on a vegetable farm, since we grow in long growing beds that end on grassy walkways and we want to be able to raise up any equipment on the tractor so it doesn’t tear up these farm roads.

This is looking down at the back side of the tractor--the drawbar hitch is not in use (in the center), but the seeder is hooked up to the three points of the 3pt. The yellow shaft is the spinning PTO (more on that later).

Some equipment like the plows or our new field conditioner just hook up to the 3pt and are used by being raised or lowered into the soil where they are then pulled along by the tractor. Other equipment relies on the two other things that live on the business end of the tractor: the hydraulics and the PTO. The hydraulics can hook up to the hydraulic system of an implement and provide additional motion or power. For instance, our disk harrow is just drawn around by the tractor drawbar hitch, which can’t raise or lower it, but it has hydraulics that run a set of wheels. From the tractor seat, we can pull a lever to activate the wheels, which raises the super heavy disk off the ground so it doesn’t tear up the grass.

The view from the seat of the heavy disk--you can see how without the hydraulic run wheels to lift it up, it would tear up the grass!

The PTO, or power take-off, is the most business-meaning part of the tractor. It’s a grooved attachment point that when activated, starts spinning the shaft of whatever implement is hooked up to it at a super high RPM rate. Most PTO driven tools attach to the 3pt and thus can be raised and lowered as well as turned on and off. The roto-tiller is probably the best example of such an implement. To use it we position the tractor straddling the bed, engage the PTO as we start driving, and then lower the tiller into the ground to the desired depth. It takes a bit of coordination and timing to run most of these implements, as well as an ability to simultaneously look backwards and forwards, make throttle and depth adjustments, and drive in a straight line. The PTO is also the one really dangerous thing on the tractor—we have bright yellow shields on them for added protection, and make sure anyone near the tractor has fitted clothes and their hair contained so nothing can get sucked in.

Operating the roto-tiller (on last year's super dry soil!)

And that’s how tractors work! Most have two or three gear ranges, with 4 or 5 speeds in each. Our tractor can run from 1/10th of a mile an hour up to 20 mph on the road [Matt tried to debate me on this, saying he never breaks 13mph on the road. However, when I drove it down to town, I held at a steady 19.5mph, so I’m declaring myself the race winner!]. Farms of our size generally have 25 to 70 hp tractors (ours is 55hp), and given all the mud we get, 4wd is definitely helpful.

For the most part, they are easy to drive, especially if you can drive standard transmission. The thing that takes practice is getting the path straight, which you are constantly looking around and making throttle and speed adjustments. Some of the easier things newbie drivers can practice on are moving materials around the field, spreading compost or picking up rocks, and mowing. More challenging tasks include anything where a straight line is paramount, especially things like tilling in a single bed between two planted beds that we are still growing on!

Plowing up a new field!

Rain, Rain, Go Away! Dealing with F.W.A. (Farmer Weather Anxiety)

Happy May! We are entering the season of FWA (Farmer Weather Anxiety), where moods on the farm begin a direct correspondence with the ten-day forecast. If we seem grumpy or jittery or anxious for the next six months, I can 100% guarantee you that it’s due to either raging hanger or an unfavorable weather forecast. FWA also leads to mood swings, since the forecast increasingly will veer dramatically over a period of hours. For example, Saturday night showed ten days of impending rain, which induced more than one tear, yet Sunday morning at 6am changed to four days of sunshine, which brought new rays of hope. (Fingers crossed that dry break holds still by the time you read this!)

We were extra thankful for the dry spell two weeks ago that allowed us to get seeds in the ground because most years it feels like we live the armpit of American weather, with constant rain and icky-ness that moisture and grey days breed, both in farmer attitudes and in plant diseases. This year, our FWA lifted with the weather gods’ blessing of a series of nice days to proactively plant the majority of the first few week’s crops. We weren’t alone, as you could hear our neighbors’ rumbling tractors late at night also putting in the extra hours to take the pressure off when weather turns nasty later.

Thanks to the connectivity of the internet, we have lots of company in our muddy misery as we hear from friends and growers across the country where pretty much everyone is getting hammered this season. The jet stream was stuck, setting warmer regions back most terribly during the late winter when we were still too frozen to even be in the field. In the northwest, heavy rains have some farms still unable to plant two months behind schedule. In Texas, the central plains, and parts of the Midwest, winds, rains, and tornados are trashing everything. And I frankly can’t keep up with what’s happening in the southeast—I’m going to nominate them for the worst weather in the country award because it seems like it’s either freezing and flooding there, or baking and literally burning up.

Here we are just jittery. We have a full greenhouse and an acre to plant this week, but it’s not clear we’ll get the four consecutive rain-free days we need to get the tractor in the field to prepare the soil. Yet at the same time, we have the buffer of a greenhouse to keep plants alive while they wait to get transplanted, a late frost built into our scheduling so we have lots of crops that we didn’t plan on planting for another month anyway, and the knowledge that once the weather breaks, the veggies we plant generally grow super-fast (thanks to our long northern days) and catch up. If the weather breaks, we’ll be slow to have produce at the farmers market, but should stay on track for our planned CSA start date. If it doesn’t break, we can just adjust and have more bounty further into the fall end of the season. This forecast heightens our anxiety, but we’ve been here before. We’ve had mid-May snow (it sucks, but we’ll bounce back) and we plan for end of May frost, because more often than not, it happens.

Comparing our situation to the rest of the country puts us in a weird spot. On a national scale, we frankly have a pretty terrible spot to farm, complete with constant wind, chance of frost during ten months of the year, high elevation, and a propensity for excess of water at inconvenient times of the growing season. It should be terrible, right?

Yet more and more, we have a thread of appreciation for our consistently lousy weather, because we build that possibility (okay, inevitability) into our farm planning and systems. Some farmers markets cancel if the winds are over 20 mph. I’m pretty sure we never went below 20 mph at one of our markets last year. We had so much wind one day that I caught 2 feet of air while holding down a 10 by 10 tent weighted with over 300 pounds! Some farms lose row cover at 10 mph wind. We consider 10 mph an “easy” day to row cover crops (it’s not, it’s honestly pretty hellish to spread giant gauze-like sails over plants in any wind levels, but we are used to it now). On Tuesday, Matt row-covered a bed by himself and came back saying it seemed a little windy. It wasn’t until late at night that we checked the weather station and learned that “little bit of wind” was 46 mph!

This is from last year--the little guys aren't quite this big yet!

One day in ten dry enough for field work during crunch times, we are ready for it [thanks to a new tractor that always starts and has lights that lets us work into the night]. Five inches of rain in an hour, been there [our fields cant at an angle for better drainage and we use plastic mulch on erode-able crops]. Three feet of snow in a day, check. Ice, sleet, hail, or graupel (our favorite form of precipitation), we’ve seen them all in every month but July and August.  16 foot snow drifts over the high tunnel, just a few hours of shoveling. No rain for ten weeks, yup. Microbursts snapping trees and ripping off chunks of the roof, so last year. Short of the eye of a hurricane or tornado hit (my phobia), we’ve seen pretty much all the lousy weather that we can conceive of, and seen most of it in every growing season on the farm so far.

This is the first year we’ve realized that all this chronic weather hassle, while it increases our labor and stress and reduces the economic viability of our farm, has one narrow silver lining. We have bad weather, but we have it all the time, so really bad weather often feels only marginally worse than normal and we are generally at least somewhat prepared for it. Most other places have much nicer average weather, so really bad weather when it hits them, it feels exponentially worse and hits them so much harder.

The weather is changing and getting more swingy between extremes, with more violence at either end of the spectrum. Wet spells are wetter, and dry spells dryer. That gentle southern wind that wafted along warm air to our fields twenty years ago has morphed into terrifying air-borne freight train that devastates at least ten percent of our crops each year (we hate south wind days!). The jet stream gets stuck, with lousy weather parked in place for weeks at a time, and training storms keep hitting the same towns with boatloads of rain, while their neighbors suffer in drought.

Our exposed site is at high risk for extreme weather, but this risk is something we know about in advance and build our farm systems around. We’ve been doing this because we couldn’t really afford land in easier locations, so if we want to continue as a farm we don’t have a choice but to adapt. We just didn’t realize how much we’ve internalized growing on the extreme climate edge until this season as we heard about all the struggles farms in what we think of as softer and nicer growing climates have had dealing with extremes that we consider normal.

Our takeaway is that we need to continue to adapt for this stressful new normal by trialing and building systems that are more resilient to three weeks of freezing spring gloom, and take notes and share what’s working for us with farmers in other regions that aren’t blessed with as many opportunities to test cropping techniques on the rugged climatic edge. It’s not going to be cheap in terms of infrastructure costs or time, but it also seems like the only way to keep going as a farm in these climatically erratic times.

This spring nationally shows that farmers in all regions need to become more prepared to hedge against the long spells of increasingly uncertain and extreme weather that can become parked over us. Our national food supply is built on softer areas of the country having decent enough weather to fill the grocery shelves, and as a country and an industry, we need to start proactively figuring out how we are going to keep refrigerators full when the global weather systems stop cooperating.

Getting into the Fields!

This year we swore we wouldn't plant until May 1st, since for the last five years, we've been hit by a killer cold spell in the last few days of April that's set crops back. However, since the weather is getting so warm so fast, we started getting into the fields last week, way earlier than planned!

We wanted to share a bit over this season about how we grow your veggies, and particularly some of the equipment changes we've been making in the last two years that will allow us to build our soils up better. We also wanted to explain what some of the weird equipment is that you might walk by in the fields! This week we are starting with what we've mostly been doing so far: primary and secondary tillage.

"Primary tillage" is pretty much what it sounds like--the initial field work that prepares the ground for planting. For us, it's a two stage process of spreading compost and/or composted chicken manure, and then chisel plowing. We make some compost on the farm (and buy some in, though we are always looking for more), but we also use an organic, dehydrated chicken manure compost that we spread in the snazzy yellow cone spreader, where it drops through the cone to fly out through the openings at the bottom (yes, spreading this is the dirtiest job on the farm!). This spreader also does double duty as a seeder, helping us plant cover crop seed for green manures at the end of the growing season or in fields we are actively growing on.

Next up is our beast of a chisel plow. This implement (in the picture below) is the one thing that can really strain the capacity of our tractor. It has five giant tines (about 30 inches high) and is pulled behind the tractor, loosening the soil to depths of 6 to 12 inches. We started using this last year because we wanted to do more "vertical tillage," which is where you don't invert the soil with a regular plow, a process which can break up beneficial microbial communities, but rather slice these blades through the soil and any compaction to allow better water percolation and root growth. We've been seeing good results so far!

Below is a picture of the chisel plow in action last week in Montana, which we actually left uncovered this winter so it will be ready for the earliest crops of the year (I know, it doesn't look like it's doing much, which is a good sign that it isn't that rough on the soil!).

[We name all our fields after states to help keep them straight. Montana is the highest, most northern field with the biggest view of the sky. California is the field with the high tunnel, since it has the most perfect growing conditions, and since our U-Pick fields are scattered in an archipelago over the farm, we call them Hawaii! If you hear us talking about going to Indiana, Maine, South Carolina, or any other state that sounds like a nice vacation, it's actually more likely we are talking about our growing fields, sadly! We are opening a field north of Montana this year, so one hot farm debate this season is if we should call that new field Alaska or Saskatchewan?]

After chisel plowing, we do one of two "secondary tillage" options on the farm. If we need a fine seedbed for direct seeding crops or using a plastic mulch, we would roto-till the soil right before planting. If it's less important to have a perfectly smooth bed, we will use our new tool for this year: the field conditioner. It's a replacement for a couple implements we have used in past years and essentially works the soil more gently with a series of tines, before leveling the soil out with a little roller in back. Our long time goal is to move away from roto-tilling unless absolutely necessary towards more reduced tillage options like this for preparing and managing our fields. Our other long term goal is to mechanize our heavier manual work so that we can handle the farm as we get older! This field conditioner hopefully helps a bit on both fronts!

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And then the fields are ready to plant! This week we'll be putting a lot of crops into the ground, so we'll try to explain the tools we are using to do that in one of the next weeks! Enjoy your sunshine!

Every Day is Earth Day on the Farm: Hand Grenades and Silent Fields

Matt and I worked on a number of farms over the years, both conventional and organic, but a farm I worked at for half a summer early in my career both has had the greatest lasting impact to me about the importance of working with nature as you farm, and been on my mind a lot this winter thanks to world events.

In 2000, I worked from July through September on a small community’s farm 300 kilometers southwest of Moscow in their potato and vegetable fields, teaching English to kids there, and practicing Russian. At the time, rural lands were in the process of being pulled out of collective farms and semi-privatized. Anyone who had worked on the collectives now could lease a four-acre parcel to do their own thing, and the group I lived with had started a pretty amazing community there. The big catch was that the collective farm had been something like 10,000 hectares (30 square miles!), there were limited traversable roads, and everyone lived in these centralized towns without many private vehicles.

I was in charge of exercising the community’s horse while it’s owner was away, and I would ride for hours through twilight (it didn’t get dark until 11 pm!) across these empty, birch-lined roads and rolling fields. It had an eerie melancholy that took me over a week to realize was due to its dead silence. No birds for the most part, no humming insects (okay, the lack of mosquitoes was pretty nice), just silent fields and whatever sound the wind made across them as they started the process of turning back to what they had been before. Every now and then you would come across a random tethered cow or a small field that was being worked and lush with giant vegetables, or one of the few people still hiking out to use the land they had access to, most often much older women with their five-foot scythe blade at their side, who would rhapsodize about Khrushchev and how things were so much better back then.

Snow buntings (our favorite winter bird and a rare sight) feeding on our winter wheat cover crop.

Snow buntings (our favorite winter bird and a rare sight) feeding on our winter wheat cover crop.

I was always fascinated by the vast scope of the Russian landscape and the turbulence of Russian history and politics, how they seemed like both an opposite and mirror image of our own county, and how they were able to mobilize on such a large scale to create these immense farms and their hidden giant chemical production cities deep in the taiga. What hit me when I lived there was true cost of such grand expansion—the giant apartment blocks starting to crumble at the edges, the deep lonely silence of insect-less fields, and the difficulty of citizens trying to regroup when the future they trained for in their collective farm roles was gone.

Coming back to the US, that summer lingered with me over the years, and I’ve been thinking about Russia a lot recently. We in North America, like our mirror image continent of Asia, have so many amazing natural resources and potential bounty that we can draw from them, but we have to use the land, air, and water well or we risk going hungry. Eastern Russia has some of the most amazing soils in the world, and while the potato harvest we brought in that year wasn’t considered great for them, it was the best yield on potatoes I’ve ever seen in my life.

Yet even surrounded by such a bounty of beautiful fields and rich soils, those months are the only time I’ve ever gone to bed clawingly hungry every night (I lost over 10 pounds a month there). We largely ate some form of buckwheat three times a day, topped with a thin sauce of vegetables or watered down milk. Once a week there was a half a herring in the dish, and for a special occasion, a piece of pork fat. After potato harvest began, it was the same, but substitute potatoes for the buckwheat. The hunger seemed to be a result of the breakdown of an immense political, economic, and cultural system that hadn’t yet regrouped into something new. (I’m pretty sure it’s a lot better there now.) Sometimes I wonder if mirror situations here in the US are what create the food deserts in some of our cities and rural areas where there might be plenty of food, but not necessarily affordable or healthy options.

Sunset over a boisterous wetland.

Sunset over a boisterous wetland.

I also gained an appreciation that to steward our earth well, we need to have specialists, but there is also a great benefit in having generalists thinking in a general, bigger picture matter on things. People from the collective farm in Russia had learned deeply about the one aspect of the farm operation they did, be it feeding cows or driving tractors or milking, but it was such detailed specialization that outside of the framework of the collective, no one (save those older women hiking the five miles out to their fields each day) seemed to have the generalist big picture knowledge that most small or family farmers here in the States rely on. Coming back to the US, I began work on a small family farm that had begun as a homestead, and their capacity to build, grow, or create literally almost anything was pretty impressive. From a couple decades out, we strive on our farm to find a balance between generalization and big picture farm planning with specializing in vegetable production, and staying up to date with the newest production systems and research.

There’s both a fragility and a resiliency in our natural systems, and we believe that we can work over time to fix most challenges that face us. In Russia, I was initially struck by the vast number of round potholes throughout the woods and along the roads. I thought it was some sort of glaciation phenomenon as it would be if it was here in the northern US, until one day my host mother told me that I should stay on the roads and fields as there were lots of ghosts around from the 100,000 people that had died in WWII in the region. That town was incredibly hard hit by bombs and war and every one of those potholes was an impact crater. Yet half a century later, it was heavily wooded and cultivated, with very few visible signs of the past devastation beyond the cratering. [On a tangent, while working on the potato combine where 8 of us rode on top, picking out rocks, rodents, and funky potatoes as they passed by, I found an odd little cylinder that looked like an old one-pint paint can. My neighbor, shouting over the tractor noise, grabbed it from me, shouting, “Bad! Bad!” As we were bouncing across the field heading home from lunch, packed all 8 in the farm’s little Lada, I noticed her holding it very carefully cupped in her hands as we went over bumps. It was a live grenade left from the war (we blew it up later), and made me realize how scary it must be for everyone farming or living in areas with active landmines and old bombs!]

Clean rainbow skies and air

Clean rainbow skies and air

There’s no price high enough to put on healthy air and soil and water, so we should do our best to keep them clean. In Russia, what got to me most in the end and stuck with me all these years, was that overwhelming silence. You take so much chatter from nature for granted, that it takes a while to realize that it’s all gone. Here on our farm, sometimes there’s an eerie moment when a hawk passes by or in the pause right before a thunderstorm hits and things go all dead or muffled for just a second, and it always makes you look up. Spring and summer here literally throb with insects and birds and mammals, all shouting at the top of their lungs “I’m so sexy!” and “Stay off my lawn!” to anything in earshot.

One of our biggest successes as farmers here at Hartwood so farm is building our farm’s amazing bio-diversity between the mix of crops, pastures, woods, wetlands, and hedgerows. Each year, new species move back in, some as awesome predators and some as annoying pests, trying our patience and nibbling our crops. We feel that over time, we can balance out the system so that the predator and the pests are in balance, rather than try to eradicate all of them into some dull silence.

We do have more work ahead of us to build a system that doesn’t end in silence. Most of our continuing challenges lie in the nature of vegetable production, which with tight planting schedules and yearlong growing can be harder on the soil than we want it to be, with all the cultivation and weeding. We focus on designing a system that replenishes our soil between crops through resting fields, using cover crops, and adding organic matter. You can see some of this even more in action this year through the very long walk you will take through our gauntlet of obnoxiously loud birds and bugs to get to this year’s fields, which are wedged up against the woods at the very back of the farm. We have finally been able to open up enough fields to let half of our growing area rest and replenish each year under a carpet of recuperative green manures. We’ve also been switching around our equipment to use gentler methods to work the soil, so we can rely less on roto-tilling and more on soil building vertical tillage.

And on a bigger picture, we hope to work with our community and our country’s leaders to protect the great soil, air, and water resources we’ve been blessed with in the US, so that they remain filled with happy and healthy and noisy populations of humans and animals. We are happy to be farming in a community where so many farmers, customers, and community members of all political stripes care about their land and health. On this Earth Day and hopefully many to come, we will be working to build a healthy farm system, where soils can lock in and hold nutrients to grow healthy, delicious plants, and where hopefully silence never falls on our fields (outside the rest of winter’s quiet). And I hope to get back to Russia one day and see all the changes that must have happened over the last 17 years. Nature abhors a vacuum, so I like to imagine the fields have refilled with life and sound of busy animals and insects living along side humans in a mix of wild and cultivated lands.

Happy Earth Day!