Two weeks ago I seeded the first greens of the season—kale, chard, lettuce, parsley, and bok choy. Several days later, a group of volunteers joined me in the basement to tackle the alliums—scallions, shallots, onions, and leeks, 66 flats total. Now the greens have sprouted, the alliums are close behind, and the greenhouse is an inspiring place to be, especially when it’s 30° outside. Meanwhile, back at the Tin House, the 2020 season isn’t quite over. We’re still working our way through crates of carrots, beets, potatoes, radishes, onions, and cabbage. Each bi-weekly farm stand chips away at the mass, but not fast enough for our purposes. We’ve given ourselves until mid-April to clear out most of the food, because that’s when we‘ll be gutting the entire walk-in cooler for an upgrade. We’ve been selling 5 lb. bulk bags all winter, but at this point we may switch to 15 lb. bulk boxes. Tell your friends!
CSA shares sold out last week, days before the Ides of March deadline I set for myself. Arbitrary deadlines are fun if you can beat them. I don’t miss the pre-COVID days of hustling to sell shares right through the end of May. To be able to print and post member materials in March, so I can jump head first into the fields in April, is a wonderful thing.
Speaking of jumping into the fields, I missed the first leap. I was upstate skiing with the kids when Dan and Steve took the tractor out for the inaugural, springtime disking. In the beds where a mere week ago there had been cover crop and the residue of last year’s plants, there is now freshly churned soil. Dan was pumped to see this winter’s purchase—a 40” set of disks—perfectly cover the span of one bed. These disks replace our 60” set, which covered 1½ beds. Though it may seem counterintuitive, having a smaller set that matches our bed width is a big improvement, as the wheel tracks remain visible, and thus easier to maintain. One of the big trade-offs in farming with tractors is soil compaction, but if you can confine your compaction to permanent set of wheel tracks, and ensure your planting zone never carries more weight than a farmer’s foot, you’ve threaded the needle quite nicely.
I used to get a big thrill out the season’s first disking, but those feelings have morphed into a complicated mix of love, hate, and resignation over time. In order to get our seeds and transplants properly established, we must till, or disturb, the soil. However, the billions of microorganisms that inhabit the soil don’t appreciate this disturbance any more than humans appreciate earthquakes. Like many regenerative growers, we’re always on the lookout for ways to reduce our tillage, but it’s almost impossible to avoid in the spring. Tillage warms the soil by exposing more surface area to the sun, and it accelerates the decomposition of old crop residue. These are important considerations, given that cold, residue-laden soil is inhospitable to root growth, not to mention a haven for pests. In 2017 and 2018, we lost our onion transplants to seedcorn maggot; last year it was the kale. We had been pushing the envelope, trying to find how little disking we could get away with, and we found it. So this spring, while I definitely don’t thrill to the first disking as I used to, I accept it as necessary part of the big picture.
We have 10 weeks to go before the first CSA harvests. Once we step onto the main season treadmill, there’s no stepping off until November, so we’re taking advantage of the relative springtime quiet to squeeze in a few events. We hope you join us!