The season is moving along. Compost has been spread, beds have been prepped, and a greenhouse’s worth of flats have been transplanted. Dan, Steve, and I have been zipping all over the farm like a small army of ants, yet there’s not much to show for our efforts, in terms of visuals or food. Many of the beds are covered in tarps, to warm the soil ahead of planting, and no sooner do we plant than we lay down sheets of row cover to keep out pests. At the end of the day, the best we can expect to bring home is a pocket full of dirt. But we are keenly aware of the season’s potential. Just as the dog days of summer don’t arrive until weeks after the solstice, there is a long lapse between toil and harvest. The fields may look uninviting now, but once November rolls around, we’ll be filling harvest crates faster than you can sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
One new idea we’re trying this spring—compost twinkies! Or ring dings, or ho hos, whatever cream-filled confection you can imagine. Sounds weird, but hear me out. Throughout the year we stockpile horse manure and let it age until it’s broken down into a nutrient-rich compost. In the spring we lay it on the fields with the manure spreader, an open-ended wagon that drops a thin layer several feet wide. For many crops, however, we’d prefer a more concentrated application—a thick layer one foot wide. Enter the compost twinkie. We start by digging a trench down the length of the bed. Then we fill the trench with compost. Last but not least, the tractor closes the trench with a pair of hilling disks. The final product is a low hill, covered with top-soil, filled with compost. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but planting tomatoes into such a rich environment fills me with the same anticipation that a ring ding-packed lunchbox did in third grade.
Our initial run with the paperpot transplanter could qualify as a success, depending on how you define it. First we transplanted peas, and we quickly learned the necessity of a well-prepped bed. The transplanter is heavy and difficult to maneuver, and it doesn’t respond well to rocks or clods of dirt.
That said, it successfully transplanted 750 feet of peas in several minutes, leaving us with the most promising stand we’ve ever had. The second job was less encouraging—a bed of early beets. Again, we were stymied by rough beds. The transplanter veered off-course in several spots, leaving us with crooked rows. As a result, we won’t be able to cultivate these beds with the tractor—we’ll have to do it by hand. Despite its imperfect performance, the transplanter showed us its potential, as well as what is required for improvement. In that regard, it has been highly successful. Fortunately, I anticipated a steep learning curve, and I didn’t set all our eggs in the transplanter’s basket. Most of our transplants are still being done by hand. As we improve, however, we grow increasingly excited/impatient to transition more plantings to the new system.
Yesterday I attended the Long Island CSA fair organized by iEat Green and Slow Food North Shore. Hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood, it was a meet-and-greet event that allowed Long Islanders to compare their different CSA options. Not only was it great to chat with so many enthusiastic eaters, it was also a unique opportunity to catch up with the fellow growers that we seldom get to see. Most of the familiar names were there—Garden of Eve, Sang Lee Farms, Green Thumb, Hamlet Organic Garden. There were many newer farms as well—the Bayard Cutting Arboretum CSA, Orkestai Farm, Thera Farms, Elijah Farm, Herricks Lane Farm, and many, many more. Absent were the corporate entities that love to piggyback on local farm imagery without truly delivering the goods—Peapod, Hello Fresh, Misfits Market, etc. While these companies make legitimate claims of convenience and affordability, their alleged support of local farmers is just a strategy to capitalize on consumers’ feel-good impulses. Their definition of “support” and “local” is so intentionally vague that it’s meaningless. That’s why today’s event was so special. It was the real deal—Long Island farmers growing food for Long Islanders. No middlemen, no bull, just locals feeding locals.