We’re closing in a full week of no serious precipitation, and it feels as though our world is finally drying out. Spring showers are nothing new, but coming on the heels of last summer’s torrential rain, and it’s a recipe for—you guessed it—mud. One of the first lessons Steve and I drilled into our new apprentices Lisa Chalif and Michael Mottola was the importance of not getting the farm trucks stuck in the muck. Fortunately, they’re quick learners, and the mud finally seems to be abating.
The sun was shining on last Saturday’s farm tour. We had several new faces in the group, but most attendees were long-term CSA members curious to see how the farm has evolved. For almost two hours, Steve and I waxed poetic about reduced tillage, cover crop, and cultivation techniques. The soil was dry enough to accommodate a basketweeder demo, and a few kids got sweaty chasing Canadian geese from the kale. Afterwards, when I asked Lisa for feedback, she seemed most impressed by the variability of our fields. For a relatively small farm, our covers a wide range of soil types and terrain, making for a steep learning curve. Knowing that Pond Field has poor drainage, that Lower Crooked is slow to warm, and that Lower Williams will occasionally host a raging river—these observations take years to make and absorb.
The first CSA pickup is now one week away, and the predictable mini-dramas are playing out in the fields. Will the radishes be ready in time? Will the spinach pull through? Did the geese get too much of the kale? If history is any guide, the first harvest will be just fine. That said, we celebrating a notable victory in the onions. After losing entire plantings to maggots in 2017 and 2018, we resolved to use every organic tool at our disposal this year. First we thoroughly disked the field so that cover crop residue wouldn’t harbor pests. Then we laid a tarp to warm the soil. At planting time, we doused the transplants with beneficial nematodes and diatomaceous Earth. Once the onions were planted, we laid on row cover to keep out flies. One week later, before the weeds were even up, we removed the row cover and cultivated, stimulating biological activity around the plants’ root zone. Now, four weeks after planting, the field looks great! We know better than to count our onions before they’re harvested, but at this point we’re confident that if we do end up losing any, it won’t be to maggots.
Even as we gear up for the first harvests and the arrival of CSA members, we’re preparing for a bittersweet goodbye. My grandparents, George and Arline Garbarini, are pulling up stakes and moving to a retirement community in Westchester. Not only were they among the very first CSA members, they have been devoted volunteers since the farm’s founding. George is best known for mowing the grass pathways in the fields and around the Tin House, but he’s also picked his share of beans and pulled his share of weeds over the years. Arline is a fixture of the Thursday evening pickup, checking CSA members’ names, stocking tables, and providing book reviews with equal ease. My grandparents have always inspired me with their youthful spirit and
can-do attitude. In recent years, when I was tempted complain of a sore back, I would envision ninety-year-old George pushing a mower on a steamy summer day, and my back immediately felt better. In the thirteen years that George and Arline have been members, they have inspired more than a few others as well. The farm won’t be the same without them, and they will be greatly missed.