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.
CSA pickups have resumed, which means more people in the Tin House and more people in the fields. We had some funky weather just as the strawberries were starting to ripen, including a very cold, very wet Memorial Day weekend that could have turned a lot of berries into jam. But our CSA members donned their rain gear and hustled to the fields because they know that strawberries wait for no one. Compare that to a commercial pick-your-own operation, whose success depends (to a large degree) on weekend weather, and you’ll understand why I’m such a fan of the CSA model.
Now that the fields are in full swing, we’ve got a full staff on deck. Jen Hochuli is back, and this deserves a big round of applause. Jen was in a serious car accident last summer, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury, and she has spent much of the past year working towards recovery. But now she’s back, her spirit undiminished, as anyone who meets her can attest. Jen sets up and breaks down CSA pickup every Tuesday and Thursday, and she helps run the pickup on Thursdays, now that Judy Stratton has stepped down from the role. Jen also works in the fields on Saturdays, where we rely on her to supervise volunteers.
This season we’re also joined by Nancy Galgano, a long-time CSA member who can now add farm worker to an eclectic resumé that already includes legal secretary, massage therapist, and chef/food entrepreneur. Nancy works with us on Wednesdays and Fridays, non-market days when we tackle big projects. Her quiet, can-do attitude is a welcome counter to the loud, I-can-do-it-better braggadocio that often characterizes Caroline-Steve-Peter conversations. But we don't underestimate the quiet ones. Just the other day, Peter sheepishly whispered to me that while he was running off at the mouth, Nancy beat him in handweeding a row of strawberries. Hats off to her!
The summer solstice is around the corner. Vegetables, weeds, cover crop, and grass are growing at break-neck speed. Work days start early and end late. The sun, which dictates so much of what farmers do, seems omnipresent. It’s an exciting, exhilarating time to be alive, and to observe life. But death is never far behind. The New York Times recently published an article, “Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die,” (May 14, 2021)and I inhaled it in one pre-dawn/post-dusk sitting. The message of the title nun, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, is that to live a happy, productive life, we must never forget inevitability of death. I can think of no better way to embrace this message than to cultivate a farm—or a garden. Plants sprout, plants grow, plants die, and the cycle repeats. The more you witness it, the more natural it feels, and before you know it, you’ve arrived at a surprisingly peaceful place where resisting death seems as pointless as resisting gravity. So you resolve to make hay while the sun shines, to farm/build/fix/dance/sing/paint/write/create/love/exist/etc/etc/etc your heart out...to live each day as though it were your last.