The cool nights of September are a welcome relief from the nonstop heat of summer. They also mitigate the effects of the drought. We could still use a lot more rain, but at least the cooler temperatures allow the soil to hold onto its moisture, lessening the need to irrigate and presenting the first opportunity since June to plant cover crop. Since we only irrigate our cash crops, cover crop success hinges on rain and moisture retention. The only cover crop I seeded this summer was buckwheat, a tough plant that can sprout and survive in nothing more than condensation, as another farmer put it. It was too dry to seed anything else. But now that the fields are emptying of crops, the time has come to plant the traditional fall covers—oats, peas, winter rye, and vetch. Soon the landscape will transition from brown back to green, and the sight will be as welcome as the flowering buckwheat was in July.
One of this season’s rare success stories was a steady supply of near-perfect kale. We’ve always had good harvests in June and July, but by August, the plants usually start showing their age, buffeted by weeks of pests and disease. By that time, however, the summer fruit harvests are cranking and a new supply of fall greens is around the corner, so the end of the kale isn’t as tragic as it might be. Except that I personally love kale. It’s such a tough, versatile green, I believe it deserves every bit of stardom it’s enjoyed over the years. So this year I planned a second planting to carry us through the fall. Ironically enough, the drought conditions that wreaked such havoc elsewhere also diminished the pests and disease that attack the kale. So, weeks after switching over to the new planting, I noticed that the first planting looked better than ever. The lower leaves were yellowed and buggy, but the upper leaves were as beautiful any I’d harvested in June. So I switched back, thinking to squeeze every bunch I could from the first planting while allowing more growing time for the second. Stepping through the waist-high rows, I smile thinking of how much fun the chickens will have when they move in next week. And I’m comforted by the sight of the second planting chugging steadily along next door.
As the winter storage crops make their grand exodus from the field to the Tin House, we’ve had our work cut out for us keeping hungry critters at bay. There’s one squirrel, in particular, I’ve been calling Satan for his ability to wreak havoc—if we leave a single pumpkin unattended at the wash station for more than five minutes, he devours it. I long for the days when we could lay winter squash out on greenhouse tables to cure. Now we’re packing them into our collection of trailers and sheds, and keeping careful tabs on climate control. Fortunately, the dry weather that’s making the animals so desperate is also perfect for curing squash and other storage crops. So rot has been pretty minimal.
Our crew is gearing up for the 180th Long Island Fair. Restoration Farm is entered in most of the vegetable contests; Nancy, Jackie, and I entered the crocheting, embroidery, and photography contests, respectively; Glenn entered the vegetable and flower contests; and Peter entered pretty much everything. From what I hear, the CSA membership will be well-represented, too. The 3-day fair is the ultimate multi-tasking challenge for our crew—field work, CSA pickups, and the farm stand don’t skip a beat while we’re operating our annual booth in the village. By Sunday afternoon, some of us are surviving on adrenaline alone. But the fair is a special event that brings the Old Bethpage Village Restoration to life, and we wouldn’t miss it for the world. We’ve been praying for rain all season, but this weekend we’ll be praying for sun.
Lastly, an update on the deer fence. Within days of posting the August newsletter, I received an outpouring of support from CSA members, farm stand customers, and other readers, reassuring me that when the time comes, we’ll be able to crowdsource the funds. I was also put into contact with Nassau County lawyers, and for the past few weeks, we’ve began negotiating a permit for the project. It’s a complicated process that takes both persistence and patience, and I still don’t have an answer to the million-dollar-question: will the parks commissioner give permission to the project. But I didn’t expect this to happen overnight, so I’m more or less where I expected to be—keeping the project high on my radar, responding to County inquiries as soon as they come in, and demonstrating our commitment to getting this job done.