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Next Chapter

May 21, 2023

This week our CSA pickups begin, our summer apprentices arrive, and the strawberries are ripe, which means one big thing—the volume of people flowing through the farm is about to swell from a trickle to a river. Fortunately, we just got some much-needed rain, so the volume of produce is going to swell, too. The first pickup is always a big deal, and every CSA farmer wants to deliver a respectable first harvest, but the weather always gets the final say. In a cold spring, crops are often small and/or late. In an early spring, radishes and Asian greens bolt ahead of schedule. It’s rare the weather cooperates, and going weeks without rain is far from ideal, but if you get a heavy downpour three days before your first harvest, crops on the verge of maturity will probably be perfectly-sized for showtime. Let’s hope!

Visitors may notice a new addition to our palette of colors and textures in the field—black, shredded leaf mulch. An experiment is underway, and the early results are starting to come in. One of our standard practices is mulching certain crops with whole leaves, a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. The high hope of last winter was that shredded leaves, which can be purchased at any time and applied by tractor in the spring, would be an improvement upon whole leaves, which must be stockpiled throughout the fall and applied by hand in the summer. Both types have their pros and cons, and here’s where a good old-fashioned list comes in handy:

And the early results? Planting into shredded leaves was more challenging, since it takes quite a bit of digging to get down to the soil. The shredded mulch is doing a great job of suppressing the weeds where the application was thickly uniform, but there are many places where it wasn’t, and managing these weeds will be tricky, as our hoes are designed for bare ground. And so far, the crops planted into the mulch don’t be appear to be starved for nitrogen, which can happen when leaves decompose into the soil. We know a lot more now than we did last winter, but it will take a full season for the full results to come in—and those will be the results of just one season. Next year, our East Coast weather may go back to its usual rainy self and produce entirely new results! If you like plot twists, farming never disappoints. For now, the jury’s still out on shredded leaves.

We had a bit of tomato drama last week. It started at the plant sale, when we sold out of most varieties. When that happens, we usually just tell people to check back after we’ve transplanted our own, because we usually have extra. But we couldn’t give that reassurance last weekend because germination in our greenhouses has been very irregular this season, and this has been most problematic for the tomatoes. Most of seeds germinate eventually, but because tomatoes grow so fast, by the time the late-bloomers emerged, they were completely shaded out by their older siblings. When it was getting close to planting time, I was concerned that the overnight lows were still too low (there was frost on Thursday morning!), but my greater concern was that if we didn’t get the bigger plants out of the flats, the smaller seedlings would never size up. So we planted on Thursday, not sure if we’d have enough big plants to fill the beds. We did, but barely, and not without some last-minute adjustments to the field map. The remaining seedlings—small from being stuck under the canopy—we carefully returned to the greenhouse, where we will nurse them along until they’re big enough to sell.

I’m wrapping up this newsletter a little early because tomorrow begins a new chapter—new employees, new CSA members, new routines. And for me, the best way to prepare is to get a good night’s sleep.

Thanks for reading, and see you at the farm.


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