... between the raindrops, that is! We've not had much time to post since our last big rain event because it's been raining on and off since then, which keeps us really busy trying to squeeze crops into the ground and stay on top of the weeds (which LOVE wet weather). We can work around the rain but it's a lot harder--your boots get so heavy with mud it's like walking through quicksand.
The last month or so has certainly been up and down. It's been quite a challenging spring this year--what makes the challenge most impressive is that we have had pretty much every spring weather situation occur here that could be a challenge in NY: a cold, late start, a drought period with constant high winds, deluges, cold nights, and more. And we actually were somewhat lucky here at the farm--we missed the mid-May snow that hit the upper Midwest, the late May snow that reached NH and VT, and the remnants of Andrea that dumped on the Hudson Valley!
Because we are new to our land, these challenges have also brought some learning opportunities as to how our soils and site can handle things. On the positive side, 2012's drought was a powerful lesson in irrigation, so we are definitely better on that front. We also better utilized our hedgerows as windbreaks this year, which was a huge help on some of the days where it hit 60 mph. Our row cover investment lets us get almost an acre under row cover, and has definitely paid off--reducing pest, wind, and water stress on all the crops lucky enough to be under it.
On the negative side, we have been facing one huge challenge. We have this beautiful lower field that we've been prepping since last year to hold 3 acres of our summer and fall crops (which is half of the acreage we grow). We've spent hundreds of hours working on getting this ground ready, including a huge chunk of time in the last 3 weeks. However, after getting more rain in just over a week than we did all summer, we learned that some of our fields are slower to drain than others. Specifically, these 3 acres just aren't drying out. After waiting and trying to work it and waiting some more, we realized we had to radically change our cropping plans in order to get the summer crops into the ground.
Fortunately, we had an area in the northern field that we had seeded down to oats to rest and rebuild for the 2013 season. We realized that we needed to pull out the oats and get those summer crops in there. We are lucky that we had this overflow option, but having to prepare these extra few acres has definitely strained our time resources (and our backs!).
We ended up tilling these beds and they look really good. The soil seems very nice (and most importantly is DRY!). We fit the beds for summer crops with black plastic. We aren't huge fans of using the plastic, but it does a great job of warming up the soil (which is key for peppers, eggplant, melons, and tomatoes), keeping down weeds, and trapping in moisture. We are also lucky enough to live in Madison County, which does recycle this at our dump.
Before the rain Monday, we finished off all these beds! It feels good to have these crops in the ground, and now we have time to assess that tricky lower field and learn what will work for using it. Since that big rain (4" over a couple days) that flooded the field, the ground has been slowly drying out, and it seemed to handle our 2" rain storm well, which gives up hope that it will be fine in the future with some more moderate weather!
For the past three weeks, we've been having scary flashbacks to last summer's drought. At the farm, only a half inch of rain fell during all of May... until this week, when two inches pounded down. While the rain was a bit rougher on the baby crops than ideal, we are not going to complain! It's supposed to be tapering off today and tomorrow, and then we hope for some good drying weather so we can get back in the fields, where our crops, cover crops, and pastures are growing like crazy!
The rain brought us a real feeling of relief. We have the capacity to water all our fields, but it takes a long time--irrigation after a three week dry spell runs to 3 or 4 hours of extra work a day. This recent rain will basically give us the time equivalent of having an extra person in the field! Even with irrigation, the crops don't seem to grow quite as well as they do from real, actual rain. We can already see a jump in growth out of the peas, greens, and broccoli!
We've been laughing a bit because the weather for much of May has been poster child weather for days that you shouldn't transplant crops--dry, hot, and with battering winds. Yet when plants need to go into the ground, sometimes you have to put them in on these terrible days! We shifted our schedule to start transplanting around 3 or 4pm many days, and stayed out there to water crops in by flashlight as late as midnight. Starting late means the plants will get the cool evening to settle into their new homes (and it's often less windy here at night), and watering each newly planted crop heavily helps get the roots to make good contact with the soil (and gives each plant a supply of water for its first few days). It also leads to groggy farmers in the morning...
So far, all of the 2014 strawberry crop is planted, the potatoes are in, and all the spring crops are seeded. We did lose a couple beds to poor germination (and one to the row cover blowing off one windy afternoon and our nemesis the flea beetles invading the arugula... but more on them next week), but all the transplants that went in under May's non-ideal conditions seem to be doing great!
Fall seems to have snuck up on us. We had our first frost (it was a light one, fortunately), we are starting on the winter squash harvest, and crops are switching places (the eggplant are giving up and the spinach is growing faster by the day). The weather seems to be getting more normal--it's actually TOO wet now to work up the fields (which is giving us some time to get the tractor repaired). Here's some October 1 photos to share what's going on around the fields!