Another week at the farm. How quickly they go by in July and August. We had a very satisfying amount of rain last week, about 2.5 inches. The rain came with a price. There was a little hail damage. One week of salad mix was shredded and the summer squash, winter squash, chard, kale and onion leaves were bruised up a bit. The squashes themselves will be fine, but that generation of salad mix is toast. A couple of tables of plug trays were blown over in the high winds, destroying about 36 flats of baby plants. We replanted those right away, so the only thing lost was labor. All in all these minor damages were a fair price to pay for the rain - it was so needed. The ground is still nice and wet – too wet to get in with a tractor. We like it like that because there are always plenty of things to do once you can get the tractor in the field, and usually those things take precedence over everything else, so right now we all get a breather and are able to do all those low priority things that get shoved aside once the ground dries out. Such as plan out the fall cover crops.
This morning Paul and I drove around in the farm truck with our laptop, notepads, pens and calculators, and assessed the fields in terms of cover cropping. The types of cover crops we plant in each field are directly related to the cash crops that we are going to plant in those fields next spring. So, in order to plan out the fall cover cropping regime we have to first plan out where all of the cash crops are going to be planted next year (by cash crops I mean the ones that you all are going to eat). This doesn’t mean that we have to plan out each individual planting of lettuce, beans, arugula, etc for the whole year – we do that painstaking task in January. Instead we divided next year’s cash crops into those that need to be in the ground by May 15th, and those that will be planted after May 15th. This is easy to do – we just look at our field maps from this year and count the number of beds that were planted as of May 15th. We plant almost exactly 50% of our annual cash crops by May 15th each year.
What’s so magic about the May 15th date? Well, early in the spring the ground is wet. Every spring there is a mad flurry of work to get beds worked up and plantable in a timely fashion. We have to plant the right kinds of cover crops the preceding fall such that we can get 50% of the cash crops in the ground by May 15th. To us this means oats and peas planted in August, and then chisel plowed under around Thanksgiving. By spring the fall chiseled oat and pea debris will be somewhat more decomposed than oats and peas that are not fall chiseled. This jump in decomposition allows us the benefit of a fall cover crop with out the disadvantage of a solid mat of slimy oats and peas facing us in the spring when we are desperately trying to work up ground for that first planting of spring spinach, peas, and transplanted onions. A slimy, solid mat of oats and peas is just what you get if you let the fall planted oats and peas winter kill naturally without plowing them in. Certainly, we do let some of our oats and peas go the slimy solid mat route, but only in those fields where we plan on planting after May 15th . Despite how it sounds, there are lots of good things about slimy solid mats of dead oats and peas covering the fields. Maybe I’ll talk about those advantages some other time. Right now it seems to do so would veer me off course.
So, this fall we are planting oats and peas (oats for organic matter, peas for nitrogen) that we will chisel in around Thanksgiving for the pre may 15th cash crops, and rye and vetch for the post may 15th cover crops. At the risk of being confusing, we also plant rye and vetch in all of the fields that will be in fallow next year – about a third of the total farm. The fields slated for the post may 15th cash crops are planted to rye and vetch because rye and vetch do not winter kill, but instead hang out throughout the winter and then really take off in the spring. They grow lush and rank by May, and then they are mowed and tilled into the soil in preparation for the late season cash crops. There’s a tiny primer in cover cropping and field planning.
Crop Mob! Come to the Sweet Land Crop Mob this Saturday from 9-1. Google "Ithaca Crop Mob" for details and to RSVP. Thanks!
Here’s the line up for the week:
Carrots, beets, onions, cabbage, head lettuce, celery, cukes, summer squash, chard, kale
U-pick: all unlimited
Chard, kale, beans, flowers, cilantro, dill, basil (open again)