Learning agronomy

Here's the trouble.  We have about eight new beds ready for planting tomorrow, and at least twenty beds worth of plants ready to get in the ground in the next week.  The cover crop in the Final Frontier field-- the next hope for making plantable beds-- was a jungle of tangled peas, vetch, and rye grass just a few days ago.  It's now desiccating atop a rock-hard plate of dry soil, and all its nitrogen will continue rapidly escaping back into the atmosphere until we can till.  We can't till until we irrigate to get the right moisture level, and then there's a couple days' window to incorporate the organic matter before the soil's too dry again.  We missed the window in one section already, and we need to keep the process in motion-- while keeping everything else on the farm watered with a limited number of irrigation lines-- until all that crop is mixed underground.  And even then, we wait.  One to two weeks for the crop to decompose enough to make fine beds.  Hours and days while harvest takes priority, training new volunteers draws us away from the tractor, and broken sprinkler heads foil our plans to irrigate on time.  We'll get there, but it'll be close.

Agronomy, according to the Internet, is the science of soil management and the production of field crops.  It's a fancy word for farming.

I don't often need to have my head deep in the agronomy of the farm.  Ted does the planning, the mapping, the problem-solving.  It's a relief to be able to understand what's going on, and to let it go.  Not my responsibility to figure it out.  I spend more of my mental energy on people and food than on agronomy: how to train everyone, keep projects rolling, motivate and inspire.  How to manage the harvests, prepare each crop for market, make sure nothing goes to waste. 

But luckily, agronomy sneaks in.  My grasp of the seasonal cycles of crops and succession plantings is better than years past.  This season I can anticipate how quickly weeds will grow, keep track of where they'll sprout next, know how moist the soil needs to be to effectively uproot them.  I'm seeing how quickly soil dries out in 14 hours of sunshine, what plants decompose the fastest once they're mixed under, and how helping plants grow unchecked prevents pests and diseases from overtaking them.  Sometimes it happens intentionally, when I research a bug or nutrient or botanical term.  Mostly though, it happens unintentionally, every day, as I walk and look around the farm, talk about the plan with Ted, hear questions and observations from volunteers and interns.  Slower that way, but it seems like the right pace to really stick.  So maybe when I'm sixty four and wondering when to dig under my field peas, I'll remember how I heard that the nitrogen increases as the plants age, but also how the long older vines get stuck in the tiller, and end up finding my own happy medium between what my head knows and what my hands have experienced.