Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Farm in November

By Nicole Sugerman
The end of the season is close, but there is still a lot to do on the farm. We work shorter hours this time of year, by choice but also by necessity; it’s hard to work long days when the sun sets at 5:00, now that daylight savings time is back! Harvests are a little shorter, soon to become a lot shorter once we take most things out of the ground as the CSA comes to a close. In case you are curious, though, here are a couple descriptions of project occupying our time at this time in the season:

Garlic Planting
I want to write about this one first because I think it is the most exciting activity of the fall. In opposition to every other crop, garlic is planted in the late fall to be harvested the next summer. Garlic planting should be timed so that the garlic has time to establish itself before it gets really cold, but not establish a lot of top growth. It should work on root growth over the winter so it is ready to grow in the spring. The fall planting date of garlic is the reason we did not have any garlic for you all in the CSA this season. We did not break ground until March, which was four months too late for garlic. This season, we have planted some, but not all of our garlic. We are preparing beds for it this week.

Bed Clearing
This is not a new activity, but as we harvest the last of many crops, we have to make sure we ‘clean up’ the beds and prepare them for winter. Bed clean up involves pulling out all the weeds and left-over plant material (if you leave roots in the ground, insect pests can overwinter there and find your plants earlier next season), and then seeding a cover crop for the winter. The only cover crop combination we can seed this late in the fall is winter rye and hairy vetch, because the winter rye is hardy enough that it will still be able to establish itself despite the cold. At this point in the season, though, it will stay small until the spring, when it will grow tall, giving us the plant matter we want so we can add it back to the beds.

Some plants can grow into the winter. Carrots and parsnips store well in the ground, and kale and collard greens are sometimes hardy enough to live through the snow. For these plants, we want to apply a very thick layer of mulch, which will hopefully prevent the ground around them from freezing. The roots will be easier to dig out of the ground, and the kale and collards will have a better chance of survival. Mulch is also a good idea because the ground will not remain bare all winter in place where we will not seed cover crop because there are still plants.

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