Last week, our basement underwent its annual makeover from cozy winter hideout to springtime farm hub. Dan and I purged the clutter, set up the folding tables, and installed long-overdue fluorescent lighting in anticipation of the first seeding of the year—the onions. It’s a big job that calls for a big crew. Fortunately, at the tail-end of winter, a big crew isn’t hard to find. In the span of eight hours, Judy, Peter, Jen, Jackie, April, Steve, Sharon, and Auggie deposited over 40,000 seeds into more than 100 flats. Not only that, they did it without going blind. Onion seeds are tiny, black, and easily camouflaged against the dark soil; coated seed are easier to see, but also easily confused with the flecks of perlite and vermiculite in the potting mix. On top of that, the seeding rate for onions is dense—4 seeds per cell into 128-celled flats. All of which is to say, the biggest job of the year is also the most tedious. Over the years, it’s taken us anywhere from 1-3 days to complete the job, depending on volunteer turnout and stamina. To all the volunteers who ever helped us seed onions without adequate lighting, I’m so sorry!To the crew members who launched the 2022 onion parade in a single day, thank you!
While the crew was seeding away in the basement, Dan was busy hauling away the tools, bikes, and firewood that accumulate in the backyard greenhouses over the winter. In a matter of hours, the primary greenhouse morphed from de facto garage into steamy incubator. The tables are now covered with flats of kale, chard, lettuce, and alliums. In another week, the second greenhouse will be filled as well. At that point, we’ll start transporting the mature plants to the unheated greenhouses at the farm, where they’ll harden off before being transplanted into the fields. Years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to bring flats to the farm before the danger of frost had passed, but I’ve changed my tune, for two reasons. First, Peter’s 2019 stint at an upstate farm imparted some cold-weather wisdom and tricks, not the least of which is that many early seedlings can survive colder temps that you realize, and that on the really, really cold nights, you can use row cover and a fan to prevent frost from settling. Second, I’m maxed out for space, i.e. I have no choice. Necessity is the mother of invention and pushing the envelope, I guess.
Yesterday, Peter, Jackie, and I took advantage of the beautiful weather to spread tarps over the fields where the onions and spring greens are headed . Tarps are an effective way to warm the soil ahead of planting; under the right conditions, they can also accelerate the decomposition of crop residue from previous plantings. Problem is, they’re a pain to manage. The bigger the tarp, the bigger the pain. We have several 100’x20’ tarps that two people can handle; a 100’x50’ where you’re happy to have a third set of hands, and a 160’x’30’ where you’d kill for a fourth. No matter the tarp, you don’t want to work in any kind of wind. Fortunately, the air was still, and we were able to get four tarps laid in under three hours. It was such a satisfying job that I didn’t mind the sunburn that accompanied it—turns out tarps reflect a lot of light.
This is the first season since 2008 that we don’t anticipate any new hires, given that everyone from the 2021 crew is returning. Peter continues to grow into a skilled field manager, capable of executing a range of jobs and leading a crew. Jackie is stepping up her hours both in the field and behind the scenes, organizing farm stand activities and helping out with our social media accounts. In May, Nancy will return to the fields, where she’ll help with planting, weeding, and harvesting. And once CSA pickups resume, Jen will be back in the Tin House for set-up, hosting, and clean-up. The only one not returning is Steve, who’s taken a position at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum CSA. We’ll miss him in the fields, but we understand his desire for a shorter commute. We’re also counting on him to pick up the phone when we can’t remember how to angle the hilling disks.
That everything is moving along smoothly is always a blessing, but it's a bittersweet blessing this spring, given the horror of what’s happening in Ukraine. Watching the war unfold has reinforced my gratitude for the most basic things—food, shelter, safety, a homeland, a livelihood—but nipping at the heels of gratitude is a gnawing sense of helplessness and guilt. How do you go about your daily business when children are being murdered? How do you celebrate the season’s first planting when people are starving in cities under siege?
Hands-on tasks like seeding offer a reprieve from the sadness and dread, but it creeps back in whenever I'm on my phone or computer, which is often. It’s easy to become paralyzed by it. That said, you can’t stop living your life. This war is still unfolding, and there are more tragedies to come, but you've got to function without losing your sense of humanity. Here's where I come back to the same quote that has long guided and grounded me—be the change you wish to see. For me, that means working hard, living simply, and doing right by your family and community. And for now it means standing, in my own personal way, with Ukraine.