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Ups and Downs

The past few weeks have been a series of ups and downs. In late April, Steve and I were facing a backlog of planting, thanks to spring’s late arrival, so we rejoiced at the early arrival of Alison Reilly, our seasonal apprentice. Alison’s first day on the job was a trial by fire—five hours of nonstop onion transplanting. By the end of it, as we loaded the empty trays into the truck, I prepared her for the possibility that we might return in a week to find all our work wiped away. She blinked, thinking I must be joking. But I explained how root maggot had decimated last year’s crop, and how despite all of this year’s added efforts—a later planting date, the spraying of beneficial nematodes, the use of row cover, etc.—there was still the possibility that we could lose it all. So, I should have been prepared when, exactly one week later, we removed the row cover and saw the telltale signs of maggot damage. It still came as a shock. Nevertheless, for better or worse, we had last year’s playbook to go by. Steve and I agreed we could save half the field with some diligent TLC, but we would cut our loses on the other half and plow it under. Then we planted replacement beds with our leftover seedlings (which we’d held on to, just in case), and with purchased sets, mini bulbs that mature into full-sized onions. Just like last year, we’re still anticipating a respectable onion crop, but it will be hard won.

Despite the onion setback, fieldwork progressed. The carrots germinated beautifully, the spring field filled with greens, and the strawberry planting was the smoothest in years, thanks to a new method of bed preparation. We even had a visit from a bald eagle! By the time we started potting for the plant sale, we were caught up on planting and the fields looked great—neat and weed-free.

But then the rain came. For the third year in a row, it rained both days of the plant sale, which put a damper on the farm tour and children’s concert. And yet, we still had a great turnout. The Tin House was a bustle of activity, the bikes were back in action, and there was even another endangered specie sighting. A CSA member’s father identified a mature American chestnut tree growing in the woods just beyond the flower beds. Castanea dentata was a hugely important hardwood tree before it was nearby wiped out at the turn of the 20th century. To see a 60-foot tree growing right under our noses was as amazing as…well…seeing a bald eagle drinking in the pond.

Meanwhile, the rain hasn’t stopped. Steve and I took advantage of the one dry day this week to catch up on several days’ worth of planting and weeding. So much of our current efficiency and speed is thanks to Steve’s skill set on the tractor. As long as the weeds are still in their “white thread stage,” it’s no big deal for two or three of us to cultivate half the farm in a day, using a combination of disks, basketweeders, and collinear hoes. Once that’s done, we can accept and even welcome the return of the rain and settle into the time-consuming but relaxing job of handweeding the carrots.

I’ll close with this: this week there was a deer sighting at the farm. Two years ago, a security guard spotted a deer at night, and we found some minor damage the next day, but it turned out to be an isolated incident. Then, on Wednesday morning, Peter saw a deer by the garlic field. Several hours later, Judy saw one at the Tin House before it ran down the road leading to the fields. I couldn’t find any damage the following morning, so I’m hoping this incident will be like the last. But deer pressure in Nassau County is on the rise. It’s too soon to say what, if anything we can do. All I can say is this is an existential threat we’re following carefully.

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