Transplanting has begun. Yesterday we had a full crew on deck—Dan, Steve, Peter, Jen, and Amanda, our newest volunteer—to plant the kale, chard, and collards. These single-row crops are planted into our signature “compost cannolis,” which can be prepared weeks in advance. First, the tractor-drawn subsoiler cuts an 18” slit down the center of the bed; the goal here is to facilitate drainage and nutrient uptake without pulverizing or inverting the soil. Then, we apply a concentrated layer of compost, thanks to a sander perched atop the manure spreader. On its own, the spreader would lay a 4’ span of compost, but with the sander, we can dial the spread down to 2’, so that it stays within the plant’s root zone.
Finally, the tractor makes a third pass with a set of hilling disks, which covers the compost beneath a low mound of soil. And presto—compost cannolis! Steve and Dan spent much of the past month building cannolis around the farm. Then last week, in anticipation of this week’s transplanting, I seeded annual ryegrass and Dutch white clover in between the rows. Over the next few weeks, these pathways will mature into brilliant fairways of green. In June, when the plants are full-sized, our crew will apply a thick layer of leaf mulch beneath their canopy, so that the soil will be completely covered—exactly how we like it.
The upcoming Saturday farm stand will be our last with the 2020 storage crops, as we clear out the walk-in cooler in order to upgrade the insulation and A/C units. Part of me is relieved to turn the page on beets, carrots, and cabbage, but even as my mouth waters at the thought of fresh, tender greens, I remind myself that storage crops in April were part of the plan—local food year round. That is, I should be grateful and proud that our stores made it this far. I have COVID to thank for this heightened sensibility. Even as a farmer who grows much of her own food, I still make regular trips to the grocery store, so I was as horrified as anyone when those shelves emptied out last spring. Which is to say, I’m more appreciative of local carrots in April than I was fourteen months ago. But, to continue the thought, a heightened appreciation of storage carrots in April also heightens my appreciation for fresh greens in June. Funny how gratitude can amplify itself.
Another COVID-inspired change for the better…the evolution of our plant sale from a single weekend to a weeks-long event. We did this to minimize crowds, but we also found welcome relief from the pressure of a specific date, where bad weather can spell disaster. Plus, by broadening the sale window, we could sell a wider range of plants. This year, on April 3, we had the very first plants of the season—chamomile, sorrel, garlic chives, and feverfew plucked from the herb beds, plus bok choy and napa cabbage from the greenhouse. Next weekend we’ll add more greens—kale, chard, collards, broccoli, and lettuce. By mid-May, the tables will be loaded with all the garden staples.
Before COVID, the plant sale marked the season’s unofficial opening. Now that we never really close, we don’t exactly re-open either. Regardless, in the spirit of springtime rebirth, I made my annual attempt at cleaning the Tin House. It’s a big building with a lot of dusty crevices, and if it’s only role was to store equipment or supplies, I probably wouldn’t bother. But it’s also our storefront/office/staff kitchen/lunchroom, with current and potential customers always passing through, so it should look halfway presentable. Every spring I aim to give some part a deep cleaning/Marie Kondo purge. It’s never as much as I would like, but it’s always better than nothing.
A much more satisfying rebirth is happening in the herb garden. In March, I put out a call for CSA volunteers to adopt individual beds. The idea was to enlist help in an area that’s very visible to the public, but which our crew was only barely able to maintain. I was definitely pleased and not entirely surprised when seventeen members stepped up. We had a meeting at which volunteers had the opportunity to meet each other and to sign up for specific beds. Once the beds were assigned, it became a matter of watching the project unfold. Some days, I see gardeners hard at work; other days I see evidence of their recent presence. In either case, it’s wonderful to feel the joys and challenges of stewarding a communal farm being shared.
I’ll close with a recipe, in the hope you’ll take advantage of this weekend’s last chance to stock up on napa cabbage, onions and beets. It was shared with me last year by CSA member Esther Klein (aka “The Jam Lady,” and more recently “The Fig Lady”). I made it many times this winter, always to great acclaim, and part of me wishes I’d shared it sooner. Better late than never.