Catch-up

The short story
It’s been a tough spring for us farmers and our veggies. Cold and dry conditions slowed crop growth in April and May. The first two weeks in June, with 9 inches of rain and a few afternoon storms that drove us from the fields, were just about unbearable. And now the sun is shining, the temperatures are warm, our spirits are lifted and our veggies are once again singing.

The details
I know it was a colder than usual spring because I was wearing my long underwear, wool hat and socks and sweater into early May. We had to irrigate our fields in April and May – craziness! – proof of an unusual lack of spring rains.

It warmed up a bit in late April and our farm crew flew into a month-long planting frenzy. We started with spring broccoli, then in May we planted an acre of potatoes, and then on to spinach, carrots, beets, sweet corn, arugula, broccoli rabe, lettuce, celery root, celery, salad turnips, radishes, herbs, green beans, bok choy, mizuna, fennel, parsnips, more lettuce, more carrots, more corn, more everything. The battle cry on our farm in early May is always “Plant it!” and we did – summer squash, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, slicers, eggplant – all into the fine prime farmland at Moraine.

Mid-May we added “Weed It!” to our planting mantra. Weed, plant, weed, plant, weed, plant. We added a once weekly harvest for a small Spring CSA share. Weed, plant, weed, plant, harvest, weed, plant, weed, plant, harvest. Pleasing, straightforward work.

Then it began to rain. Nine inches in the first two weeks of June – that’s 6.5 inches more than average. Our fields became deeply muddy and barely passable on foot. We could not plant or weed. Standing water in the fields stunted the growth of some veggies, drowned others. Other veggies turned pale green from lack of nitrogen. So we harvested for the CSA, worked on the deer fence, seeded in the greenhouse, organized our stuff. It rained some more and was just too wet for us to work in the fields without damaging the soil structure. Finally there was nothing to be done but wait for it to stop raining and for the fields to dry out.

The rain let up a bit the second week in June, lifting our spirits and resolve to get out into the fields and catch up – weed, plant, harvest! But Mom Nature continued to play with us, teasing us with the promise of dry weather in the mornings and then sending afternoon storms, with thunder and lightning that drove us from the fields.

Long periods of wet soil and wet plant leaves have negative crop consequences. We’ve seen early and increased disease, and lowered yields in lettuce, spinach, beets and chard. The cold soil temperatures coupled with too much rain caused our early cucumbers to fail.

More significantly, we were unable to cultivate weeds and get mulch down in a timely manner. The best time to weed on a sustainably and organically managed farm is shortly after weed seeds germinate. Any later requires so much more labor that tilling the crop under may be the best solution. We can cultivate an acre of crop land in under an hour when we hit it at just the right time, when the weeds are tiny. Get the timing wrong and that same acre can take 40 hours to weed. I think you get the picture, a week without weed cultivation costs us dearly.

So, it’s been a bumpy ride so far this season but that’s only half the story. You’ve not yet heard the bright side of this tale! Yep, there’s always a sunny side and you will be tasting some of this coming week!

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