Farm update on the excitement in the greenhouse (so many seeds starting to germinate!) and some hints for starting your own seeds at home!Read More
This growing season is nowhere near over, but we are already doing a fair bit of work to prep for next growing season! As crops finish producing, we've been tilling them in and putting buckwheat in the beds in their place. At this point, most of the buckwheat is mowed down and we are planting our winter cover crops. Cover crops are important on most farms, particularly newer ones like ours, where the soils can use some improving.
"Cover crops" or "green manures" include a wide range of plants. They are crops that are planted, not to be harvested for anything in particular, but rather to cover and protect the soil, or to be tilled in green to enrich the soil.
Our cover crops will add organic matter to the soil (this will happen when we till them in next spring), which helps improve both soil drainage and water retention. They also protect the soil from compaction and leaching over the fall and winter--bare soil can be beaten down and compacted by rain and snow (this is what happened in our fields over the past few winters), which makes it harder for plants to grow the following year. Also, when there is a lot of rain, nutrients can drain out of the soil. Cover crop plants hold on to these nutrients with their roots. Finally, some cover crops (those in the pea or legume family) are able to pull nitrogen, a key plant growth nutrient, out of the air and fix it in the soil in a form that the following crops can use (in essence, free fertilizer!).
Since we don't yet have animals and their manure on the farm to make compost to improve our soils, we are relying on these cover crops to help us out on the nutrient front.
The crops we are using are: oats with field peas, winter rye with hairy vetch, and straight winter rye. The oats and peas will grow this fall and die over the winter, leaving a mulch layer of plant growth protecting the ground--we are planting them in the first areas that we will work up next spring. The winter rye and hairy vetch will keep growing next spring, so we are planting them in areas that will have summer crops. Peas and vetch both are legumes that fix nitrogen, so they are key in these mixes.
Winter rye, when tilled under in the summer, has alleopathic properties as it decomposes. This means it will inhibit any other seeds from germinating near it, which has the added benefit of helping us against weeds! For the straight winter rye, which we are growing on areas slated for fall crops in 2013, we will be chopping down the mature rye stalks to use for mulch in between beds of the summer crops. Let's hope we get the rest of our cover crops in the ground before Tuesday's rain!
It's been a super busy week on the farm. We had a lot of (non-farm) events going on, my mother visited so we showed her around the area a bit, and Matt went back up to NH to get our greenhouses (finally!). There's some pics below to catch up a bit! Germination and planting (both inside and out) are proceeding on schedule, but we started getting in a pinch (since we had to wait to get our greenhouse), so we tossed together a mini-caterpillar tunnel for the plants to live in during the day. It's pretty jury-rigged, but easily fits all of our flats, and has already weathered like a champ some 40 mph gusts of wind! The deer fencing hasn't been tested yet but has also survived the wind without a problem.
We started field seeding, and the tractor/tiller combo is working out great. Oddly, though, it's already TOO dry for lots of the smaller seeded crops to germinate without irrigation. This is strange and a bit worrying so early in the year (April generally tends to be too WET).
This week will have a lot of field work going on... look forward to a post on the greenhouse going up, and our irrigation system installation. Also, we should have some more pictures from the field as germination begins out there!
... inside before the season begins. I keep saying that we will start our outside work (and we certainly will) with all its exciting pictures and stories any day now. Yet Matt and I find ourselves busy wrapping up the last inside loose ends despite the warm spring weather.
(Arlo is outside, supposedly chasing our evil nemeses [geese] out of the pond... however, they quickly learned that the water is too cold for the dog and are taunting him from the middle. Clearly he needs to step up his game a few notches!)
We are also focused now on practicing patience. I really, really want to start seeding things that I probably shouldn't. It's just so nice and the soil (even here at 1400 feet) is actually pretty warm. But... we are almost guaranteed to get cold again, so we are trying to be patient... for at least one more week! It's just hard not to get antsy with days like today! This used to be a big problem of mine, especially with starting seeds. The year that cured me was in NH when I started all my tender seeds and threw in snap peas a couple weeks early since it seemed to be warming up faster than usual. Of course it ended up getting VERY cold in late May, and I couldn't get my tender summer crops in until 2 weeks later then normal (and I had started them 2 weeks earlier than normal). The plants survived and didn't get too root bound, but I had to spend a lot of money and time re-potting them. Twice. The pea flowers, however, did not make it through the frost, and we lost a lot in yields.
"What DO farmers do in the winter?" is a question we hear a lot. In sort, recover, regroup, re-plan, and get prepared. Winter is a great chance to reassess how the season went, what we liked or didn't like, and where we want to go from there. It's also a time to put together your vision and goals for the farm in the next season, and assemble all the things you need to make that happen.
This winter (and this early spring) were certainly busy for us. In the past week, I have been working on finishing the orders for most of our spring supplies and seeds. Typically we would do this last month, but we didn't want to buy anything new knowing we'd just have to move it again!
Where do we order our seeds and growing supplies from? Our favorite places for seeds include:
Johnnys Selected Seeds (out of Maine)
High Mowing Seeds (out of Vermont)
Wild Garden Seeds (West Coast)
We try to work with companies and seed houses that breed (or at least test) seeds for our northern climates. We also like places that offer a mix of hybrids and open-pollinated/heirloom seeds, to give us a good balance between new and old crops.
For growing supplies, we use Johnnys again (link above), as well as:
Nolt's Produce Supplies (no website, but out of PA)
And for when random parts are breaking, FarmTek
This year we are trying out some NY vendors and hope to find some local places!
Matt, meanwhile, is focusing his energy on finding a tractor. We have a great little cultivating tractor, but now need something with a bit more power to work the roto-tiller. Unfortunately, our scale seems to put us in the black hole of tractor sizes. There are tons of sub-35 hp and over-90 hp machines out there, but not a lot in the middle range (which is of course what we are looking for). He hopes to decide on something by the end of the week!
Look for notes and seed starting pics tomorrow!