Summer Solstice

June 13, 2021

Last week we transplanted the winter squash—roughly 1700 seedlings, spread over one third of an acre, a big job in any year. This year, however, we decided to try something new. Rather than plant into a field tilled bare by the tractor, we would recycle the strips of perennial white clover seeded between last year’s tomato rows and plant directly where the tomatoes had been. Sounds simple, but wait... Our tomatoes are planted in rows 9’ apart, while the winter squash rows are 4.5’ apart, meaning we would also need to plant through the clover, if we wanted to maximize the available space. Steve managed to build a planting zone using a variety of implements—first the subsoiler, which cut an 18” slit through the zone; followed by a 2’ wide power harrow, which killed off the clover (we hope) within the zone; and finally a pair of single-row cultivators, which cut back the clover (we hope) trying creep into the zone. All in all, he delivered workable zone that Peter was all too happy to plant into—if he didn’t plant 100% of the squash, he planted 99.9% of it. We’ve still got some work ahead of us. All the weeding will be done by hand, since our tractor-drawn cultivators won’t work alongside the clover. We’ll also need to pay careful attention to ground humidity in the fall, when the squash vines die back and the fruits start curing in the field. But we’re hopeful we can still achieve a great crop in spite of these changes. Who knows, maybe the winter squash will be even better because of these changes. We embraced this experiment because we’re always striving to reduce our tillage and increase our use of cover crops, but one unexpected benefit was giving the clover the opportunity to flower, which it doesn’t do in its first year. I’m sure the pollinators were pleased by the novel buffet, and perhaps they’ll repay us when the time comes to pollinate the winter squash.