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In the Zone

March 12, 2024

Last week, our basement underwent its annual metamorphosis from winter hangout to seeding headquarters. A big worktable that doubles as a buffet/puzzle table was cleared to make way for stacks of flats. Work stations were set up on folding tables. The place had the look of Santa’s workshop, but instead of carving tools and paint brushes, we wielded index cards, pencils, and knives. On Monday, our crew seeded kale, chard, and lettuce; on Wednesday, we began the alliums—onions, shallots, leeks, and scallions; on Thursday, we finished the alliums and shifted to the beets and peppers. Such a big flurry of seeding is usually accompanied by a measure of confusion and scrambling. Labels get misplaced, flats get miscounted, and seeds get spilled by cats, toddlers, or the occasional adult. This year, for whatever reason, there was zero scrambling. A big thank you to Judy, Maryellen, Jeff, Geri, Jackie, and Nancy for such a smooth entry into the 2024 season.

Photo courtesy of Slow Food North Shore and Sisters of St. Joseph

Last weekend, our crew took the show on the road. Dan, Jackie, Judy, and Big Dan/Papa headed east to the CSA fair in Brentwood. Hosted by Slow Food North Shore and the Sisters of St. Joseph, the annual event is an opportunity for Long Islanders to meet dozens of local farmers and producers, all in one room. It’s also a chance for vendors to catch up and network. Last year, Dan came hope with a set of cultivators from Teddy Bolkas of Thera Farms. This year, he connected with the founder and baker of Johnny Breads, an organic bakery in Nassau County. Stay tuned, bread lovers…Johnny Breads will be at our farm stand on April 20.

The fields are looking suspiciously green for this time of year. Last fall, we seeded most of the farm with a 4:1 mixture of oats and winter peas, our standard fall cover crop. In a typical winter, the oats will die—or winterkill—but the peas will survive. Then, in early spring, new pea growth will poke through the dead oats, producing a kaleidoscope of yellows and greens. This year, however, it’s just green on green—the oats are going strong, and you have to look hard to find the peas. This impacts how early and aggressively we prepare the fields for planting. To cut up and incorporate the cover crop, we use our tractor-drawn disk harrow, then allow the residue to decompose for about a week before disking again. Following this method, it usually takes 4-5 weeks to prepare a field. But the denser the cover crop, the more time required. We’ve learned the hard way what happens if you don’t allow enough time—you end up with yellow, stunted transplants because all the soil's available nitrogen is “tied up” in the decomposition process. It's not a pretty picture. Given the lush density of this year's cover crop, we're thinking 6-7 weeks is the safer bet.

Peas are the first plants to go in the ground. They’re bound for last year’s eggplant beds, where cover crop is established in the pathways, but not in the planting zone. In fact, until just last week, the skeletal remains of the eggplant were still firmly rooted. Dan wrestled them out of the ground over the course of several days, giving him much opportunity to reflect on the significance of the zone. Here are his reflections:

"Spring has sprung, and it is always a mixed bag, in my experience as a grower. I’m always chomping at the bit to get out and get going, but the weather often humbles me. Cold, wet conditions makes it counterproductive to get on heavy machines. This just creates mud and compaction. With our reduced-till approach, however, we have created a program of strip tillage that allows us to get going early without tractors. In this system, there is an alternating pattern of grass cover and cultivated strips 18” wide. What was noticeable this spring was that in the cultivated zone with compost and mulch, there is a wonderful foundation for our plants to thrive. In pulling up last year’s eggplant carcasses, the forensics show a robust plant with a robust root system. The biology in the zone was apparent. The root system was teeming with earthworms. This strip-till approach satisfies our need to start work earlier in the spring. It satisfies the plants by providing a concentrated zone of comfort and nourishment. It satisfies the crop, producing food that is strong and nutrient-dense. It satisfied the eater’s need for nutrient-dense sustenance. And it satisfies the soil biology, keeping it thriving by replenishing the zone with recycled organic matter and crop residue. It is a win-win-win-win-win. Happy spring!"

Final word: Main season CSA shares are sold out. Yay for our 2024 members, and yay for us! We love early signups because the sooner we wrap things up in office, the sooner we can focus on the fields. For those who missed the main season but want to get in on the action, we still have a few summer and fall shares available. Click here for into and to sign up.

Thanks for reading, and see you at the farm.



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