I thought I'd be pruning all day. I sharpened my tools, scoped out my first plum tree, and never cut a twig. There were bigger questions to tackle than the structure and air flow of a few trees near the edge of the farm.
For the first time this year, Ted and I walked the fields together. In my focus on all the seedlings and greenhouses, I'd almost forgotten the acres surrounding them, patiently braced against winter. There's an old adage that the best fertilizer is a farmer's footprints- or something like that- and it always turns out true. Even when there's not loads to do out there, making regular observations inevitably turns up new developments, new projects that need attending, new pest or disease or irrigation problems that need solving. Today, even when we're still months away from planting anything in the fields, we turned up a number of details:
1. The first blossom has opened on the farm: it's on an almond tree on the outer edge of the fields, and it's on a tree that is consistently first to bloom. Two years ago, it was in full bloom on March 3rd. Last year, the first bud broke around March 10th. Do some math, and it's looking to be an early spring- a reminder to make use of those sharpened pruning tools as soon as I can.
2. The overwintered cabbages are in great condition. It's amazing to me that heads that were small and barely forming in late fall could have grown to size in the chill of winter. With names like DeadOn and Tundra, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by these varieties. We may sell some to local restaurants, but the majority will go to the food bank by April.
3. The garlic looks fantastic, but it'll get swallowed by weeds unless we get in there soon. This year we planted six beds of garlic and one bed of shallots outside. They're mulched with straw, which helps keep a lot of other plants from growing up around them, but the straw itself contains a fair amount of grass seed. Unfortunately for many new volunteers, garlic (and especially young shallots) and grass look remarkably similar to the untrained eye, so it takes some extra attention to avoid ripping the crop out. There are a few groups coming to help tomorrow, so hopefully some of them can tackle this field. One puzzling thing we noticed is that the Nootka Rose seed that we saved from the farm has grown to be a much darker, bluer green color than the Nootka Rose seed we bought in. When we were planting it in October, we got through a whole bed and tucked the rest in to the first ten feet of the next bed, then finished off that bed a week later with the purchased garlic seed. So now there's a clear line between our darker plants and the imported bright green plants. I'll keep my eye out for differences in the finished garlic we harvest in July.
4. The new strawberry plants have taken root and are growing well. We plant strawberry crowns in the fall so that they're harvestable by June, rather than planting in winter and having to wait until mid summer for a harvest. This year, we may end up with a glut of berries for our early markets since we're leaving our three-year-old patch in the ground until summer. Normally we'd tear them out and use the landscape cloth on the new patch, but since we got more cloth this year we're able to leave the old bed in place. In the middle is the second-year strawberry patch, which should produce good but small berries all season. Our customers can't get enough strawberries, so I'm hopeful about this system.
That's just a fraction of all there is to notice these days. If we were to walk the fields again tomorrow, we'd find just as much and more. Throughout the walk, Ted threw in bits and pieces unrelated to what we were looking at: the carrots in the cooler need sorting; we'll have a new CSA box drop site in Springfield this year; all the farmers are looking into silo fabric to control weeds these days... The information, ideas, and logistics are never-ending. That's what keeps this so interesting for me. And I wonder, does anyone out there have a foolproof way to sort it all out and keep track of it? So much is floating around in farmers' heads all day and night. I wonder how much gets lost in the clouds, and how anything gets done at all.
Before leaving for the day, I visited the greenhouse again. Ah yes, this is how it all gets done! By choosing one thing, and doing it.
First, seeding seven flats of cucumbers for our early greenhouse crop. Stretch the English cucumber seeds since we have so few, and experiment with a couple new varieties. Arrange them on the heat mats, water them in.
Last, finish thinning the brassica and lettuce seedlings. These are part of the batch that we vacuum seeded a couple weeks ago, and most are coming up strong. I scan over each tray, up and down, up and down, looking for cells with more than one plant. When I see one, I pluck out all but the healthiest seedling. That's all I have to do. Pluck.