Until just yesterday, it seemed as though this spring only came in shades of cold—cold and windy, cold and dry, cold and wet. To be fair, there were a few warm days here and there, but when Mother’s Day arrives and you’re still wondering whether to heat the greenhouse at night, you know it’s been a cold spring indeed.
Despite the lingering cold, we turned a symbolic page last week by donating the last of the 2021 storage crops. Sounds simple, but it never is. It’s natural for storage crops to degrade over time—for the carrots to become rubbery, for the potatoes to sprout. If you commit to eating seasonally, you accept this reality just as you accept the weather. But how rubbery is too rubbery? How much sprout is too much sprout? The answer depends on who you ask, and Dan and I rarely agree. At some point, however, the time spent picking the eyes off the potatoes doesn’t justify time spent away from the fields. That’s when we call Susan Salem. Many members will remember Susan as our CSA pickup host/crew member/arts and education director from the 2010-2015 years. What most people don’t know is that even after she moved on to other projects, Susan maintained a behind-the-scenes presence as our on-call food rescuer. For the past two years, from June to October, Susan has picked up our donation boxes every Sunday and delivered them to food rescue programs throughout Nassau County. And just last week, she collected several hundred pounds of storage crops for the same purpose. Food donations can be tricky for commercial farms like ours—when you make your money on vegetables, you can’t be too quick to give those vegetables away. But working with Susan is a pleasure because 1) she understands our razor-thin profit margins, and 2) she’s fast. When the time comes to cut our losses and donate what we can’t sell, we need the transfer to happen quickly so we can clear the cooler and move on with the show. Susan’s the person who makes that magic happen.
Out in the fields, there was another symbolic shift into the 2022 growing season…we finally mowed down the stalks of last year’s pepper and eggplants. We leave these plants in the ground through the late fall, winter, and early spring because there’s no discernible benefit in removing them. The pathways between the plants are intercropped with clover, and the plants themselves are mulched with leaves, so the ground is completely covered, which is how we like it. The plants' roots, meanwhile, decompose into organic matter over time, while the aerial parts—the stems and branches—provide habitat for birds and wildlife all through the winter. In other words, the plants continue to feed the ecosystem long after the fruits themselves are gone. And then there’s this…if you leave last year’s plants in the ground until the very moment you begin prepping the new year’s beds, you have a clear roadmap for the tractor driver to follow. Why does this matter? If the tractor tires roll over the exact same track year after year, compaction in the bed itself is virtually eliminated. Maintaining permanent driving lanes is challenging on a multi-acre farm, but by allowing the ghosts of last year’s plants to guide us, we come pretty close to meeting that goal.
And the 2022 crops? They’re well on their way. The first asparagus hit the farm stand two weeks ago, followed by lettuce mix and arugula; we’ll add bok choy, stir fry mix, and possibly radishes this weekend. The onions—and just about everything else—have been cultivated twice. A big thank you to Judy Stratton and Mike Scagluso who helped with the potato planting; the job went smoothly, and we expect the first potato leaves to sprout after the next heavy rainfall.
Everything is moving along smoothly, though the wind is giving us a run for our money. It’s been particularly disruptive to the row cover, the lightweight fabric we use to protect our spring crops from cool-weather pests. In moderate cases, it pulls the fabric free from the rebar weighing it down, requiring 5, 10, or 20 minutes to set it back in place. In more serious cases, it tears the row cover beyond repair, and then we must make the call on whether to replace it at all. For the larger crops on the cusp of harvest, the decision is fairly simple—they’ll be fine without it—but younger crops are still vulnerable to pest predation. When the wind is really whipping, it’s hard to summon the motivation to roll out replacement pieces, but if it’s too windy for the farmers, chances are it’s too windy for the flea beetles, too...at least, that’s what we tell ourselves to assuage slacker’s guilt. The reality though, is that once the wind dies down, a new piece must go on. We’ll be happy when the hot weather arrives and we don’t have to bother.
Tractor update: Little Blue, our diesel tractor that suffered a major engine meltdown last month, was loaded onto a flatbed and hauled off to Pennsylvania for repair. Dan and I got a little weepy watching it pull out into the big, cold world; this is the first time it's left the farm since we bought it, brand new, in 2007. But we trust it's in good hands, and fingers crossed for a speedy return. Big Blue, meanwhile, finally got a new piston; it was back in action this week, loading manure into the spreader so we could prep for next week’s tomato planting.
Finally, this weekend is our annual plant sale and farm tour. True, we’ve been selling plants since April, and every winter we offer free walks through the fields, but our mid-May event has always functioned as our grand opening for the season, and we’re excited to promote it as such. Come for the tour, stay for the music, and drive home with a garden’s worth of plants.