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First Frost

We had our first frost last Friday. It was a light one—barely enough to wilt the peppers—but a frost nonetheless. We knew it was coming early in the week, and we knew the risk it posed to the seven beds of potatoes and sweet potatoes still in the field. Normally, we wouldn’t have so much left this late in the season, but the rain threw a big wrench into the fall harvest schedule. On Wednesday, the fields were still heavy from Monday’s rain, and there was little we could to but wait for the soil to dry ​and get our storage facilities ready. By Thursday, it was go-time. Steve, Peter, Anthony, and I banged out the regular CSA harvest so we could switch over to potato digging by mid-morning. We managed to dig four rows before calling it quits for the day. Dan, Peter, and Alison were back at it Friday morning. By that time, the frost had wilted the sweet potato vines, but the impending rot had yet to spread to the tubers below. While Dan and the crew were harvesting, Steve and I were leading forty Levittown kindergartners on a tour of the fields. In addition to sampling garlic chives and blowing milkweed seeds on the wind, these kids were lucky enough to get in on the potato-digging action. They arrived just in time to watch the tractor unearth football-sized sweet potatoes, and they didn’t need any encouragement in loading potatoes into the bins. By afternoon, the field was entirely clear. By 3am Saturday morning, when the rain returned, I thought to myself Rain all you want, the potatoes are in!

Years ago, news of an impending first frost would send the crew scurrying to the fields to save whatever summer crops they could—undersized bell peppers, green tomatoes, misshapen zucchini, etc. The die-hard CSA members would thank us for our efforts and help themselves to a few salvaged items, but more often than not, most of what we harvested went unclaimed. It seemed that after weeks of tomato overload, most members were ready to move on. At some point, I began to recognize the irony of our attempts—we’d built a business tied to the virtues of eating seasonally, yet here we were trying to beat the season. Nowadays, I’m happy to let the frost claim what it will. If you take the time to savor food at its peak, there’s no regret when the time comes to say goodbye.

The fields are emptying of food, but that doesn’t mean they’re empty.No sooner do truckloads of potatoes, carrots, and beets make their way from the field to the wash station than bags upon bags of cover crop seed are spread by hand. One definite upshot to so much rain is quick and reliable germination—a newcomer passing through the fields wouldn’t be laughed at for wondering if the place was a golf course and not a farm. Seeding cover crop is possibly my favorite part of the job. There’s something so inspiring about watching entire fields transform from dark brown to bright green in a matter of days. This fall was the first time I seeded cover crop in the herb garden outside the Tin House. There are many reasons to seed cover crop—to replenish the soil, to prevent winter erosion, to outcompete weeds, etc. But in all honestly, this time I did it just to show off. Not every Tin House visitor gets to see the fields in all their cover cropped glory. By bringing the cover crop to the Tin House, I hoped to spread the love.

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