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Farming 201

January 11, 2024

For a brief moment last week, you could close your eyes and imagine it was June. Our mulchers were back in action—1 tractor, 1 tractor driver, 7 wheelbarrows, and 4-6 humans cruising up and down the garlic beds. We started the job back in December, on a warm day when we had time to kill, but we didn’t get very far. Then the holidays took center stage, and garlic was put on hold, but we didn’t mind. Our enthusiasm for early mulching came to an abrupt halt two years ago, when Dan encountered the theory that it’s better to wait until the ground has been exposed to a period of sustained cold; without it, the mulch will trap the warmth and encourage early sprouting. By New Year’s, however, the time seemed right to organize a crew—Jackie, Adam, Mia, Judy, Jeff, Auggie, Dan, and myself—and finish the job. In the 5 hours it took us, there was ample opportunity to compare the level of sprouting in the unmulched beds (almost none) to the mulched beds (quite a bit). A clear win for the later-is-better theory. 

The chickens have finally moved into their winter quarters at the Tin House. This was their latest winter move-in yet, the weather still being unseasonably mild. But a heavy snow could happen at any moment and make the back road impassable to golf carts. So to ensure Judy can attend to her chicken chores without having to haul water on foot uphill both ways through the snow (shall I go on?), we bring the chickens to her. Some winter move-ins go better than others. Last year, the ball bearings on one of the coop tires had frozen in place, and Dan and I got good and muddy trying to get the tire rotating again. After an hour without progress, we cut our losses and let the tire skid the entire quarter-mile distance from the field to the Tin House—a winter storm was on the way, and getting the chickens settled was more important than the tire. Then there was the year one coop almost toppled at a muddy bend in the road; the coop maintained its footing, but barely, and we spent the next hour laying branches, planks, and anything else we could get our hands on to shore up the road for the following coops. All is which to say, a smooth move is nothing to take for granted. Lucky for us, there were no mishaps last weekend. Now the chickens are settled in the CSA snack plot, where visitors can enjoy their avian antics all winter long.  


Did you get your seed order in?
Among growers, it’s the quintessential winter question. But before we drop $10K on seed, we do quite a bit of homework. First is finalizing the 2024 field map. Once we know exactly where each crop is going, we can calculate how many transplants it'll take to fill the beds. From there, we finalize the seeding schedule, which itemizes how many flats we'll need of each particular variety, and there are hundreds. Finally, we calculate how many seeds we’ll need to fill the flats. It’s not rocket science, but it doesn’t happen on its own—it takes hours and hours at the computer. Those hours are often logged from the comfort of our couch while wearing PJs, but they’re just as important as the hours spent operating the tractor; without a careful crop plan, seeds, fuel, and time are bound to go to waste. Finding long chunks of uninterrupted computer time is harder than you might think, even in January, but I’ve been making progress. At this point, I hope to have the seeds ordered by the end of the month.
Sadly, this will be our 5th consecutive winter without attending the NOFA-NY conference. After a 4-year pandemic hiatus, the in-person conference is finally back, but only for 2 days, and in Syracuse, which is several hours farther than we normally travel. The winter conference was part of our family tradition for years—spending 3 nights in a Saratoga hotel packed with farmers was our idea of a dream vacation. But life moves on. Our kids used to follow us around; now we follow them around, from school, to soccer, to dance, and back. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from observing other parents, it’s how quickly these years fly by. Ada is now in 9th grade; Kobi is in 7th. Knowing we’ve hit the final stretch, Dan and I are determined to soak in as much as we can, while we can. The growing season will always be hectic—there's no avoiding it in vegetable farming—but we do have a measure of control over our winters. For now, we're happy to let our kids and their schedules take center stage. When life moves on again, I'm sure we'll find a hotel full of farmers somewhere.


Our 2024 crew is set, and it is…(drumroll please)…the same crew as 2023! That’s right, Jackie, Nancy, Mike, Adam, and Mia will all be back. After a season of intense beginner training, it’ll be gratifying to shift into Farming 201. In fact, it feels like the shift is already underway. When the crew arrived at the garlic field last week, it only took a minute to get into the mulching groove. But that should surprise no one. When you've spent days, weeks, and months repeating the same motions with the same people, as we have, the moves come naturally, like a dance. Our crew has clearly mastered the mulching dance. CSA member Ralph Ottaiano captured this beautifully in his watercolor, "The Mulch." I can’t wait to see what other dances we’ll master this year.
Thanks for reading.

"The Mulch," by Ralph Ottaiano, 2023

Potato Mulchers, June 2023

Garlic Mulchers, January 2024


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