Is winter over? Did it ever arrive? Is it safe to say spring has sprung?
We’re not sure, so we’re treading carefully. That means not seeding ahead of schedule, but taking advantage of the opportunity to get a jump start on field prep. Though the first step in field prep isn’t actually prepping the fields—it’s servicing the tractors. Changing the oil, changing the filters, greasing the grease fittings, and so on. The two New Holland tractors we bought back in 2007 are now showing their age, and they’ve probably aged ahead of their time, thanks to all the extra work we’ve put upon them— brush clearing, compost flipping, and snow plowing, on top of field prep, weed cultivation, and potato digging. With so much riding on these tractors, their annual servicing is an important ritual that can’t be overlooked. Indeed, the season can’t start without it.
Once the tractors have been serviced, it’s out to the fields. Each year’s field prep plan is somewhat different from the last, and this year, in anticipation of a mostly novice crew, I’ve been advocating for simplicity. That is, fewer plans that require a perfect synchronicity of weather, crop health, tractor readiness, and labor. Because when that synchronicity doesn’t happen—and it often doesn’t—only an experienced crew can bail you out. In the not-too-distant past, Dan, Steve, Peter, and I would practically one-up each other with fancy plans, not because we’re fancy people, but because our shared goal was complex—producing the largest crop possible with the smallest carbon footprint possible. Between the four of us, there was the experience to back up, and bail out, the most complex of plans. But as we prepare for the new season, Dan and I must be realistic about what we can accomplish with a new crew. Mike, Adam, and Mia (introductions coming soon) hold all the promise in the world if we don’t overwhelm them right out of the starting gate, and for that reason, I’m advocating for simplicity. Circling back to field prep, simplicity means disking beds and spreading compost, the most basic of field prep tasks. Last week, we disked and spread compost on the pea, kale, chard, potato, onion, and lettuce beds. We expect to get rained out for much of this week, but at the next dry opportunity, we’ll hit those beds again, before shifting over to the tomato, pepper, eggplant, and zucchini beds. Even in the midst of change, the progression from leafy greens to summer fruit crops is a constant we can always count on.
Meanwhile, the winter markets chug along. Winter share pickups concluded last month, and I’m relieved, because our walk-in cooler is almost empty. Remember last summer’s drought? Jackie and I sure do. It reduced our potato and onion yields in a major way, and we’ve been doling them out carefully to make them last. On the flip side, the drought allowed our winter squash to store months longer than usual, thanks to exceptionally hard skins. So despite our doomsday predictions back in September, when we were praying for rain, members got their money’s worth, though it took a lot of juggling on our end. No two seasons are ever alike! Now we have just enough food to get us through the remaining March and April markets.
Lastly, an update on the deer fence. In February, the leadership at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration asked if we would exclude Pond Field (aka the Berry Field) from the project, due to concern that the pastoral view of their southern crossroads would be ruined. Though we can’t afford to lose growing space, we are committed to maintaining a good relationship with our neighbor, so in a meeting with county officials, we agreed to trade Pond Field for a similar-sized parcel directly to the south. This swap consolidates our fields away from the OBVR historical buildings, so that fencing, tractors, and other modern operations are less of an intrusion on the park’s 19th century theme. The swap also shortens the length of fence by 600’, reducing the overall cost by $7,000. Hooray for that!
But the swap also presents its own challenges and costs. For one, we have 400 feet of healthy blackberry plants in Old Pond Field, and we can’t take them with us. Work has begun on preparing a new blackberry site, and new plants have been ordered, but it’ll be another 2-3 years before these plants come into serious production. And in addition to new plants, we’ll also need new locust posts, as blackberries require permanent trellising. Between the plants and the posts, we’re looking at a price tag of $2,000–$3,000 in materials alone.
Second, it’s too late for us to completely abandon our 2023 plans for Old Pond Field—garlic, winter squash, and, of course, blackberries. The county has agreed to let us harvest the garlic we planted last fall, and CSA members can pick blackberries for one more season, but we are not permitted to plant anything new. This leaves us in the lurch with regards to spaghetti, delicata, and kabocha squash, which we’d planned on planting in that field. Since we’re already operating at full capacity, we don’t have an empty field we can just switch these squash over to. We haven’t figured a solution this conundrum yet, but it’s on the to-do list.
Finally, New Pond Field won’t be ready for cash crops for another 1-2 years. Currently a cow pasture covered in thick sod and multi-flora rose, the field will require months of tractor work—and a lot of diesel fuel—before we can get a preliminary cover crop seeded. All of which takes time, money, and extra wear and tear on the tractors.
But despite these challenges, we still believe the field swap is for the greater good. For the past sixteen years, we’ve stayed on good terms with our OBVR neighbors by minding our own business, and by minimizing our impact on the landscape. We knew this project would be a hard pill to swallow, so if swapping fields makes the pill go down easier, so be it.
Final word on the fence: we’ve adjusted our fundraising goal to $50,000, down from $55,000, to account for the recent changes. As of this writing, we’ve raised $25,097 from 169 individual donors. We’re also collaborating with the Friends for Old Bethpage Village Restoration, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, to apply for a $15,000 grant from the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District. We wouldn’t qualify for the grant on our own, but partnered with FFOBVR, we do. Here’s where staying on good terms with your neighbors comes in handy. Fingers crossed that we get the grant! Slowly but surely we’re getting there. To learn more about the project, or to make a donation, click here.